This Wizard of OZ at WBT Delights the Adult in All of UsPublished: Monday, August 18, 2014 By: William Primavera Source: Examiner Media
There’s too much to love in this production of The Wizard of Oz at the Westchester Broadway Theatre for the space allowed here to do a complete review justice, so this humble observer must be reduced to paying tribute only to the most outrageously, almost sinfully enjoyed pleasures derived from several extremely gifted performers who have brought new nuance and originality to the characters from the original 1939 MGM movie that we’ve come to love over our lifetimes.
You might ask how anyone could add new nuance and originality to such iconic characters created in the movie by the likes of Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West and Frank Morgan as the Wizard without copying at least a little of their predecessors’ schtick, but with every line, every gesture, the actors Jayson Elliott, Nicole Tori and Ken Jennings in those respective roles pull off that feat with great flourish.
In fact, if I were king of the world and if it weren’t unlawful, I‘d issue a royal command that all three of these actors live in my court and perform daily for my personal amusement (do other people have such perverse thoughts?). Mr. Elliott, who should be signed to play Oliver Hardy in his life story, all but steals the show as the Lion. When he sings, “If I Were King of the Forest,” he is. Ms. Tori as both Almira Gulch and the Wicked Witch is perfection as evil personified, but you have to love her when she delivers my favorite line in the whole show. Let me set it up for you:
When she asks the chief of her palace guards what their chant, “Yo-EE-oh-YO-oh” means, he responds that it means, quite simply, “Yo-EE-oh-YO-oh.” Ms. Tori then wins our hearts when she deadpans the audience and says: “The next time I enslave a whole nation, I must check out their intelligence first.” Now there’s a fun opportunity that the 1939 movie totally missed!
As for the small bundle of wonder that is Mr. Jennings, his rare talents just leap off the stage, especially as Professor Marvel. Of course, all the other performers are spot-on: Devon Perry carries Dorothy well, as does Tim Dolan as The Scarecrow with just as mobile a face as Ray Bolger brought to the screen, and Chris Kind as The Tin Man, and Michelle Dawson as the Good Witch who just needs to be good.
Special note should be given to great production values for the illusion of a tornado with imaginative use of the stage lift. And, while I had wondered how the pomp and circumstance would be handled for the arrival at the Emerald City, it was accomplished masterfully through one of the best choreographed numbers I’ve seen on that stage over the years, courtesy of Jonathan Stahl. It filled the stage with all the splendor and spectacle required and got the heart pumping.
There have been many stage productions of The Wizard of Oz, from the time the book was first written, but this is the first I’ve ever seen. This production was adapted by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987 from the original 1939 movie to include all the original songs, but it also included some new stage business that surprised and delighted me. Maybe the stage limits the effects for a tornado or a “horse of a different color” that could change colors before our eyes on screen, but on stage, the book calls for the crows pecking at the scarecrow to morph into a line of chorus boys and, later, the apple trees in the forest are three luscious chorines supporting the apples on their angled-arm boughs. It was fun to witness these little Broadway-isms that distinguished themselves successfully from celluloid.
Directed by WBT stalwart Richard Stafford, this show is not to be missed, especially by adults. Remember, Oz was written originally as political satire for adults as much as fantasy for children, so don’t feel that you need the beard of a kid to get in to enjoy its wonder. It runs until September 21st. For days, times, prices and reservations, call 914-592-2222 or visit BroadwayTheatre.com.