PicksInSix Theater Review: The Wizard of Oz
DOROTHY AND FRIENDS ELECTRIFY PARAMOUNT’S ‘OZ’
Bolts of lighting and seat-shaking thunder claps. Twirling graphics and flashes of light that are so startling that the poor lady in front of me popped out of her seat. Spiraling cones swirling around Dorothy (Elizabeth Stenholt) as she was perched atop a rig holding on for dear life in the middle of the twister that propels her from Kansas to the magical Land of Oz. And once the twister stops, the relative calm and beauty that follows is all pretty much by the L. Frank Baum book (as adapted by John Kane) as Dorothy meets up with the Scarecrow (Kyle Adams), Tinman (Carl Draper) and Cowardly Lion (Paul-Jordan Jansen) who must face all manner of threats from the Wicked Witch of the West (Caron Buinis) to get back home again.
Every stage production of “The Wizard of Oz” must first come to terms with our own perception of the 1939 film classic starring Judy Garland. When I first saw the film on a creaky console television set in the late 50s, all I could think about for days was the vision of Margaret Hamilton bursting through the screen into our living room. Without the benefit of a dvr to replay it, I had only the immediate memory that would have to serve until the film came around again. Through no fault of my own, I did not know the Wicked Witch was green or that Oz was in color until I saw the actual film at a screening in 1973. Our television way back then was black and white.
That feeling of discovery is exactly what it is like to watch “The Wizard of Oz” live, particularly in a big stage, fully-loaded, hi-tech treatment like the one that opened Saturday at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. Expertly cast by director/choreographer Amber Mak, the show is stacked with seasoned talent from top to bottom. Making her Paramount debut, Stenholt’s startlingly fresh, electrifying performance of “Over the Rainbow” and her journey in Oz is extraordinary. It helps to be clutching the best and most accomplished Toto, too. Nessa, trained by William Berloni, not only looks the part, but accomplishes everything short of biting Almira Gulch.
Each of Dorothy’s stalwart companions in Oz elevate this sumptuous, brilliantly-crafted production by making each of their performances classically unique. Adams limbo-like contortions and comic range combine with his innate ability to make the all-important emotional connection between the Scarecrow and Dorothy. (He also has the biggest laughline of the night, but I won’t tell you which one.) Draper knocks “If I Only Had a Heart” out of the park, in a tap-dance number that is not an easy assignment for a Tinman carrying an axe and romping about with rusted joints. Jansen, shows why his Cowardly Lion is King of Forest with vocal chops that simultaneously bark and roar.
Even though we know they are coming, the scenes with Buinis as the fiendish Gulch and the Wicked Witch will have you on the edge of your seat. Professor Marvel/Wizard (Gene Weygandt), Auntie Em/Glinda (Harriet Nzinga Plumpp) and Uncle Henry/Emerald City Guard are picture perfect. Everyone looks magical in the Theresa Ham designed costumes from the adorable Munchkins and the Winkies to the brightly emerald-clad residents of the Emerald City. The exquisite Harold Arlen and E. Y. “Yip” Harburg score is under the very capable musical direction of conductor Kory Danielson. With over two dozen imaginative puppets – crows, jitterbugs, flying-monkeys, the crabby-apple trees (Emily Agy, Allyson Graves and Leah Morrow) and more – by Jesse Mooney-Bullock, the atmosphere is whimsical and fun, all set up by the masterful scenic design by Kevin Depinet and Christopher Rhoton, lighting design by Greg Hoffman, projection designer Kevan Loney and sound by Adam Rosenthal.
When all the world is hopeless jumble, it is good to know that some things can always be counted upon to help you make your dreams come true. The time-honored story of “The Wizard of Oz” live on stage is an experience for young and old of all ages which makes the Paramount production perfect family fare for the holiday season, and brings new meaning to the lyric: Fa La La La La La La La La La!