Thursday, September 8, 2011

Oz Again

When she was a kid, Fiorella played Glinda the Good in a Baylor Children's Theater production of The Wizard of Oz so there was no way she could miss the Georgetown Palace Theater's version. Both productions, of course, were based on the Judy Garland movie rather than the L. Frank Baum book. After all, the movie is what everyone remembers. But she sure wishes the Palace had put its own stamp on the story instead of directing its actors to ape every nuance of the Hollywood cast.

Dorothy, the star, was somewhat wooden but had a strong, good singing voice. However, her over-earnest speaking cadences quickly became irritating. In fact, somewhere along the line, they got so annoying that Fio found herself pulling for the wicked witch, who had a terrific laugh.

After a ho-hum first scene at the Kansas farm, the stage came alive in Munchkinland. Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion were well-cast, with Scarecrow appropriately commanding the stage. However, Lion's imitations of Bert Lahr didn't go over well because Lahr's distinctive cute-isms aren't familiar to today's audience. Actually, the scenes that were loaded with kids (the Palace runs a popular children's theater program) were the most electric.

The second act let down a little, but Fio loved the flying monkey. And the melting of the witch was riveting; Fio hadn't even noticed the trap door. A humorous flub that the audience enjoyed occurred when a "dog bark" came from stage right while Toto was supposedly stage left, unmasking the Wizard. (Full disclosure--in the BCT production, Lion's tail came off and he threw it offstage. Someone else threw it back, Lion threw it offstage again, etc. The parental audience was rolling in the aisles.)

The dance numbers were right on, us usual, but that's Jessica Kelpsch Smart for you. Fio especially liked the whirling tornado and the tap-dancing crows. The band was so faultless that Fio didn't realize till almost the end of the show that it was stuck up in the rafters, above the production. And the costuming was spectacular, especially the crows and the poppies, but Dorothy's wig looked like--well--a wig.

The director made good use of the aisles on either side of the audience, but Fio didn't think the switching between the real and the stuffed Toto worked, although she must recuse herself on that score because in BCT's production, a child played Toto. A bigger problem was the double casting of very recognizable characters. Thus Nikki Bora, who started the show as Aunt Em, also showed up as an Oz lady, a Winky guard, and a monkey. In fact, because of the scarcity of males in community theater, the uber-macho Winky marching brigade was almost all female.

The biggest problem with The Wizard of Oz is that it is a derivation of an iconic movie, and Fio admits that although she carped about the slavish imitation of the original actors' performances, the production would have seemed wrong without them. RIP, Dorothy. It's time to retire.

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