★★★★★Over the many years I have been reviewing theater, I have probably seen over 15 different and unique productions of “The Wizard of Oz”, a shortened version of the 1939 Warner Brothers ( distributed by MGM) film that was based on a book called “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. The film version truly made Judy Garland a name that will always be remembered, as this classic film seems to be on TV at least once a year. Over the years of watching the shorter, children’s version ( one hour) I have seen Chicago Shakes do amazing things in their Courtyard Theater, but due to the intimacy and the in-the-round productions in Lincolnshire, I think Marriott offers something even more special for little ones, many of who are getting their first exposure to live theater with this production.
Now that my grandkids are far too old for these productions and there are very few “rent-a-kid” venues, I always try to find someone who has a four or five year old, to join me and to give a child’s interpretation of what they saw. A few weeks ago, when we were doing the review of Casati’s Modern Italian Restaurant in Lincoln Park, Stefano mentioned that they had a four year old son, Tommaso who had never seen a live play, but knew the film. Perfect! This morning, the Casati’s took the long ride from Lincoln Park to Lincolnshire and Tommaso had his first experience with live theater. For awhile I thought he might not blink. He was captured by the visions that he saw and how quickly the story moved. Directed by Johanna McKenzie Miller, this is a shorter version covering the story in a mere 60 minutes. Since we are in-the-round, the sets are quite limited, but they do use the side walls of the venue to do videos allowing us to see some of the highlights.
I think everyone knows the story of young Dorothy Gale (Campbell Krausen is a delight in this role and her “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is perfect) who along with her dog , Toto, is swept away to a world that is quite different than Kansas, the Land of Oz. She needs to get back home and is told that she should visit the Wizard and ask for his help. Along the way we meet the people of Munchkinland and the witches, both good and bad. The “Good” witch , Glenda (Harriet Nzinga Plumpp, who also plays Aunie Em) helps Dorothy and the “Bad” witch ( the Wicked Witch is played to perfection by Jaquelyne Jones, who also handles the evil Miss Gultch).
Along her way, Dorothy and Toto meet the trio of characters that are also in need of the Wizard’s help. They are The Scarecrow (Allison Sill who does her thing adorably), The Tin Man (Michael Turrentine is a delight) and the Cowardly Lion ( Lorenzo Rush Junior is by far one of the best I have seen in this role). Make no mistake, in the first scene these three character actors play the hired hands on the farm, but unlike the film, they are not around when Dorothy wakes up back in Kansas. Only Aunt Em and Uncle Henry ( Kevin McKillip shines in his other role as the Wizard) do.
Those of you who are regular readers know how I feel about the ensemble players. They are the parts that bring a play and story together. In this particular production, there are three cast members who handle a number of roles and change costumes and characters many times. They sing, they dance, they flip and help to change scenery. They are a very important piece of making this production one that holds the audience into the story. They are :Laura savage (who I think has done over 20 Marriott Production’s), Mandy Modic and Matthew Bettencourt. They truly deserve the applause they get.
A production as sharp as this relies on a great number of individuals who together form a team that fits all the individual pieces together making it solid and worth viewing. Tony Churchill’s projections help move the story along. I will say that the snow and the bubbles that fell from the ceiling had the kids in awe ( I may have reached for them as well). Sally Zack handles the set and props design, Amanda Vander Byl’s costumes were truly great, I am not sure if anyone else noticed, but in the opening scene Dorothy’s dress was a brown gingham and at the end the typical blue ( as in the film version). Not sure if that was a director’s idea, but I liked it. The choreography by Tiffany Krause was cute and the musical direction by Cameron Miya a delight.. I think everyone knows the songs “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” and “Follow The Yellow Brick Road” as well as all the individual verses. The kids clapped along every time.
Tommaso truly had a fun morning. He was entranced by the action, the music and the lights and took part in all the audience participation. I have a feeling, he will be a theater regular!
“The Wizard Of Oz” will continue at Marriott Theatre as their Theatre For Young Audiences program thru August 7th- IT WILL RETURN November 15th thru December 31st!
The current shows are as follows:
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10:00 am
Fridays 6 p.m.
Saturdays at 10 am and 12:30 p.m.
Sundays 10 a.m.
Tickets are $15 and can be ordered by calling the box office at 847-634-0200 or online at www.MarriottTheatre.com
After the performance, the actors come on stage and answer questions. This is very cool and truly is valuable for kids who are interested in performance arts.
Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire. ( just east of Route 21 and south of Route 22) with plenty of free parking.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Wizard of Oz”.
photos by Liz Lauren