Monday, December 5, 2016

The Wizard of Oz—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

The Circle of Life
This stage production of the classic MGM film musical is based on the book written by L. Frank Baum and adapted by John Kane, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg and Herbert Stothart.  It is directed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director), musical direction by Darcy White and choreography by Elizabeth Gibbs.  It is playing at their space, 1819 NW Everett St. (finding parking in this area is always difficult, so add plenty of time to your commute), through January 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.nwcts.org or call 503-222-4480.

When we are children, our fondest desire may be to grow up and get away from home to find our dreams.  When we are adults, our fondest dream may be to be home once again because, as the story espouses, “there is no place like home!”  Such is the circle of Life, as our yellow-brick road has led us back to the beginning (not unlike the ending for Kubrick/Clarke’s, 2001:  A Space Odyssey).  Ironic, isn’t it?  And does it have something to teach us besides this?  The Scarecrow concludes, “Some people without brains do an awfully lot of talking.”  Politicians, beware, Baum was on to you.

For those not familiar with the story, it is of Dorothy (Ronni Lee), a bored, mid-West teenager, brought up on a Kansas farm by her Aunt Em (Kari Christensen) and Uncle Henry (Bud Reece), with her only friend being her little dog, Toto (KC).  (The story never does say what happen to her parents.)  Into this uneventful life, her world turns upside down when a tornado (a young girl’s awaking into adulthood, perhaps?) sweeps her into the magical Land of Oz.

Lost in this whirlwind of color and fantasies, she meets the Munchkins, the little people who inhabit the land ruled by four Witches, two Good, two Wicked but now whittled down to three, as Dorothy’s house has just landed on the Wicked Witch of the East and “…she is really, truly dead.”  Glinda (Christensen, again), the Good Witch of the North (the G/W of the South is never seen), wants to aid in her finding her way back home and advises her to wear the Ruby slippers (originally, Silver, and not actually “slippers” but shoes—see my trivia info at the end of this review) but the Wicked Witch of the West (Clara-Liis Hillier) appears and threatens her unless the gives up the “slippers” and the power they contain.

Undeterred, she follows the Yellow-Brick Road, as directed by the Munchkins, to go to the Emerald City to see the Great and Powerful, Wizard of Oz (Kevin-Michael Moore), who may aid her in her quest to go home.  Along the way she meets a Scarecrow (Sam Burns), who needs brains, a Tin Man (Brendan Long), who desires a heart, and a Lion (Andrés Alcalá), who wants courage.  Together they will trek on down the golden road to their destinies.  Among their adventures they meet ravenous ravens, threatening  trees, poisoned poppies, mutinous monkeys, wicked Winkies, and a very nasty Witch, and it is safe to say, everyone gets their desired wishes or just deserves.  (Would it were that simple to return to our own “Kansas” settings.)

But, for the one or two of you who may not be familiar with the story, I cannot elaborate more or I would be spoiling the tale.  And, be content, all of the songs from the original film are in tack with an additional one (see trivia info).  One of my favorites songs of all time is, of course, “Over the Rainbow,” nicely sung by Lee and also the show-stopping, “If I Were King,” terrifically rendered by Alcalá.  Hillier too, although having no songs, is deliciously evil as the W/W, a scene-stealing role.  In my opinion, she is one of the best actors in the area and always worth watching.

And to give credit where credit is due, there are some nicely rendered performers in smaller roles that shine, including a wonderful monkey impersonation by Gabe Porath as Niko (W/W’s chief henchman) and the featured dancer in the “Jitterbug” number and, possibly also, the Gatekeeper of Oz, but these characters are uncredited (although they may be Olivia Grace Dunn and/or Kate Kelly), anyway, they shine, as well, proving again, the old adage, “there are no small roles….”  All the actors and the entire ensemble (about 45 in all) are to be commended, as they fill the entire main stage and two side stages (plus ceiling and even the lighting booth) to expand the Baum vision.  Many kudos also go to John Ellingson for his amazing scenic design and to Mary Eggers Rochon for the very colorful costumes (although I did wonder why no mane for the Lion).

Hardy has done an extraordinary job of directing the over-whelming task of this epic adventure.  It is a Feast for the eyes and ears and nourishment for the Soul!  White has played true to the music and Gibbs has done wonders with such a large cast and space with the dances, especially the “Jitterbug” number.  I was also impressed with the effective simplicity of creating some of the scenes, such as streamers, confetti, umbrellas, flashlights, bubbles and, the more complicated, video projections.  All add to the magic of the moments.

And now, for you trivia buffs:  Some of the original suggestions for cast were W. C. Fields (Wizard), Shirley Temple (Dorothy) and Gale Sondergaard (Witch)—all unavailable, and Buddy Ebsen (Tin Man) but allergic to the silver make-up; originally the “slippers” were silver but when it was decided to film in color those sequences, they changed to red; the “Jitterbug” number was cut because of length and slowing down the story, and only some home movies remain of the original; guess what other number was almost cut for the same reasons—the iconic, “Over the Rainbow;” and, perhaps, the most amazing story, when they were looking for a special coat for the Marvel/Wizard character, they came across it in a thrift shop and it was used in the film.  The faded name sewn into the collar was “L. Frank Baum!”

Obviously, I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.