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Remember how scary the flying monkeys were? Well, they’re back, zooming above the Walnut Street Theatre’s stage, not quite as scary as the movie monkeys, but scary enough. This new production of the old favorite, The Wizard of Oz, is just about perfect: gorgeous to look at, tuneful to listen to, and guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye, convincing you, at least for the moment, that there really is “no place like home.”
The same but different
The problem with any production of The Wizard of Oz, that is, whether to copy the film or to reinvent, is solved by director Glenn Casale. He chooses both: deference and creativity.
The role of Dorothy is played by Adrienne Eller, who manages to look like a young girl despite her big, grown-up voice. Pigtails in place, she keeps Toto (played by an extraordinarily obedient dog named Dusty) tucked firmly under her arm. She follows the yellow brick road in excellent company: Christopher Shin as the Tinman (and also farmhand Hickory), Christopher Sutton as the Scarecrow (and also farmhand Hunk), and Nichalas L. Parker as the Cowardly Lion (also farmhand Zeke). They sing, dance, and deliver the beloved characters with comical sweetness.
Meanwhile, in Oz, we meet the fabulous witches: Lyn Philistine plays the good and very pink witch Glinda as well as Aunt Em, while Ellie Mooney brings convincing and sensational pathology to her witchery, first as the mean Miss Gulch riding a bicycle and then as her alter ego, the Wicked Witch of the West flying by on her broomstick. Her dark castle, staffed by an amazing battalion of armed guards as well as the “simian minions” is a dazzler, and she melts right on cue. If there had been more children in the audience, this would have been a moment to cheer.
A spectacular spectacle
The Munchkins are a wildly colorful delight — about a zillion kids onstage, all singing in high voices (“Ding dong…”) while the adult chorus provides all kinds of nifty effects. Gigantic crows mock Scarecrow, a field of huge poppies…. Nope, I won’t spoil it. The Wizard is played by Bill Van Horn (who also plays the kindly travelling mind reader Professor Marvel), and Fran Prisco gives us both drab Uncle Henry and a green-mustachioed Emerald City Guard.
Brava to Mary Folino for spectacular costumes and to Stephen Gifford whose scenic designs provide both the Emerald City and the gray Kansas farm. The storm effects — both visual (David Neville) and sonic (Ed Chapman) — are terrific. All told, everyone involved in this show, onstage and off, does a fine job. This show is that rare thing: a genuine treat that both children and adults can enjoy.
What, When, Where
The Wizard of Oz. By L. Frank Baum. Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Adapted by John Kane, and based upon the film. Through January 8, 2017 at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. (215) 574-3550 or walnutstreettheatre.org.
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