Saturday, February 5, 2011

- Theater Review - The Wizard of Oz

Peoria Players continued their season with the Friday night opening of "The Wizard of Oz".

The show is an ambitious extravaganza that provides a delightful, if only slightly uneven, night of theater enjoyment.

This production closely follows the 1939 movie version of the Frank Baum classic, with a few notable exceptions.  Most exciting of these is the inclusion of the lost Jitterbug number. 
Oz fans are well acquainted with the story of this scene.  Although it is referred to by the witch in the final movie, the scene was deleted and all film destroyed (however, many fans still fantasize about prints being discovered someday in a Hollywood vault!). 
In this number, the Wicked Witch sets her Jitterbug upon the four travellers.  The bite of the Jitterbug results in uncontrollable dancing, and the choreography in this number is absolutely wonderful. 
The dancing in this one number is well worth the price of admission.

With a cast featuring literally dozens of actors, there are several standout performances.

Possessing a lovely voice and an impressive stage presence, Clare Zell is superb as Dorothy Gale. 
Katie McLuckie's Glinda is right on the mark.
Barb Couri, Mary Sierra, and Carol Urish are delightful as the iconic apple trees.
Roger Roemer shines as the palace guard. 
Bryan Blanks is great at the Tin Man, although with a bad mic, his performance was marred by Players' perennial sound problems.
Julie Boesch does a great turn as the Witch.
Charles Killen's Lion is appropriately endearing.
Rose Blume (great name!) and Andrew Harlan stand out among Munchkins as the Barrister and the Coroner respectively.

The very best performance of the night was turned in by Josh Hammond as the Scarecrow.  He perfectly nailed the difficult dance moves that were epitomized by Ray Bolger in the film version.  He captured his character perfectly, and with a great voice to boot, he stole the show.

One of the problem numbers was "Ding Dong The Witch is Dead".  Although the Winkies did a fine job in their "March of the Winkies", this signature number appeared totally unrehearsed.

Another weak link in the show was the setting.  The resolving center set was very impressive, but the Munchkin village was uninspired and a couple of the set pieces crossed from amateurish to downright cheesy. 
An example is Professor Marvel's wagon and more importantly, Glinda's bubble. 
The bubble appeared to be covered by something like screen wire that didn't quite come together in the middle.  A simple illuminated sphere would have been much more effective.

On a more positive staging note, the use of video projection on the theater ceiling for the tornado and for the encounter with the Wizard was inspired and it added a high-tech update to this familiar story.

With a couple small glitches aside, this is a truly epic production, and one that your children and grandchildren will love.

And so will you.

Kudos to Mary Ellen Ulrich for her direction and to Aliesha Graves for her excellent choreography!

The show runs through next weekend at the theater in Lakeview Park.


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