Quintessence Theatre Group’s (QTG) The Wizard of Oz piqued my interest: I wanted to try to understand all the fuss about this classic tale. I tried watching the 1939 film once when I was in middle school, but wasn’t able to sit through to the end. I’ve since met several people who consider that film among their all-time favorites. I hoped a live adaptation would hold my attention better, and thankfully, it did.
QTG honors both the famous MGM film and the original L. Frank Baum novel while adding its own creative flair. A wildly talented cast and electrifying music by Herbert Stothart join the film’s original music and lyrics from Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, breathing new life into the classic story.
Oz at the Sedgwick
This adaptation, by John Kane, originally appeared at the Royal Shakespeare Company and finds a new home this winter at the historic and intimate Sedgwick Theater. Under the delightfully innovative direction of Lee Cortopassi, this theatrical version of Oz film transforms the turn-of-the-century novel into a contemporary hit. Brian Sidney Bembridge (set and lighting design) converts the Sedgwick into a magical Oz, with ever-changing sets creating stunning visual imagery and adding to the dramatic tempo of the musical.
Swept away from her Kansas farm by a cyclone, Dorothy (Leigha Kato) lands in Oz with her trusty companion Toto (Susannah Hughes). An epic adventure follows as Dorothy tries to find the elusive Wonderful Wizard of Oz (John Basiulis) and convince him to show her the way back to Kansas. On the way, she meets a Scarecrow (Andrew Betzas) searching for his smarts, a Tinman (Doug Hara) trying to find his heart, and a Cowardly Lion (Jered McLenigan) who wants to be brave. The Wicked Witch of the West (E. Ashley Izard) tries to capture Dorothy, and Glinda (Leah Gabriel) lends a hand. Jessica Money, Michael Liebhauser, and Chloe Mollis-McBride round out the all-star ensemble playing the many magical residents of Oz that interact with Dorothy on her quest to return home.
The script follows the film closely. Hughes as Toto is so convincing that I forget she’s human, exuding the warmth and love of a puppy while doing impressive acrobatics across stage. McLenigan’s Lion steals the show, armed with a fur coat, a New York accent, and a shirt with a six-pack painted on the front.
A live band accompanies Dorothy and her friends, adding a dramatic soundtrack to their journey along the Yellow Brick Road. Vocals and harmonies from the entire cast are outstanding, especially Kato's “Over the Rainbow.” Slapstick humor combined with sassy and amusing lingo modernize the traditional text.
An audience member sitting next to me informed me that in the book, Dorothy’s shoes are silver, not ruby, as they were famously depicted in the 1939 film. The original story is widely believed to have a political undergirding, with Dorothy representing the average American at the end of the 19th century, her magical silver shoes representing the Free Silver Movement of the era. Through this lens, it’s possible to see how the story could serve as an allegory for America’s populist upheavals in the 1890s.
As adults, how often do we dream, or exercise our imaginations? I often fear I’m not spending enough of my time on things that are magical. Don’t miss your chance to explore L. Frank Baum’s original fantasia and witness how the Sedgwick Theater transforms into an Oz you’ll never forget.
What, When, Where
The Wizard of Oz. By L. Frank Baum, adapted for the stage by John Kane, with original music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Directed by Lee Cortopassi. Extended through January 5, 2020, at the Sedgwick Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia. (215) 987-4450 or quintessencetheatre.org.
The Sedgwick Theater is a wheelchair-accessible venue, including a restroom. Seating accommodations can be requested at the time of purchase in person and online.
There are open-captioned performances of The Wizard of Oz on December 12 and 19 at 7:30pm.