Spend Some Time in Oz this Holiday Season

A review of The Wizard of Oz
at Seattle Children's Theatre
by Jonathan H. Age 15

I have to say, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this show. I have very much enjoyed many shows at the Seattle Children’s Theatre before, but to have a show as well known as “The Wizard of Oz” play itself out on their stage only makes me want to compare it to the well known movie. I know from past experiences that SCT has been known to adapt stories for their own benefit. Would they try to change it to make it new and original? Would it be completely like the movie, and if it were, would it fail in comparison? I thought of such things before the lights came up on the stage in a sold-out house, and my questions were soon answered. In fact, the play is very much like the original movie, with only slight changes to the scenes. For the most part, it stays close to the movie’s roots, and thankfully, it makes itself out to be independently a great show.
For those of you who may not know the plot, (if you haven’t seen the original movie, I would definitely recommend you check it out) it begins with Dorothy Gale, a young girl growing on a small farm in Kansas with her aunt, uncle, friendly farmhands, and her little dog Toto. She often dreams of a magical land somewhere over the rainbow, and once her farm is struck by a large twister, she eventually makes it to this magical place called Oz. There she meets a town of munchkins and a kind witch who points her to the Wizard of Oz so she can find her way home. She is assisted by some new friends she meets along the way, namely Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion. But of course, there is an evil witch who will stop at nothing to get the magical ruby slippers which Dorothy wields.
The acting in this show, while not incredible, is in fact very good and enjoyable. Each actor gives their character a little something that separates them from the original character, while still staying relatively the same. And this can be tough, especially when you have a cast of 18, in which most of the ensemble members play three or four different parts. Even some of the leads have double parts, which is intentional to the story. But of course, the one who holds it together is Kasey Nusbrick as Dorothy (whom you may know as Gabriella from “High School Musical” at SCT last season). She does a wonderful job at keeping that child-like wonder Judy Garland brought in the film. She may not be Judy, but she does an admirable job of being unique and not trying to imitate her. While her singing in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is good, she doesn’t make it as memorable above the rest in the show. I think this is actually good though, because she could have overdone it and made it seem annoying.
As for her trio of friends, the Scarecrow (Auston James), the Tin Man (Matt Wolfe), and the Lion (Todd Jefferson Moore), all play their parts well enough. In may opinion, and I think this could be the fault of the script, but I almost felt like there wasn’t much character to each of these parts, besides the facts that they each have their own wants, movements and actions. But these actors do a fine job in keeping the characters endearing enough to keep us interested in them. They also do well in the opening and closing scenes as farmhands, in which they hint at the character they each resemble in Oz. I do think Moore does a noticeably funnier job as the Lion, although he is given more to work with than the others.
Some other stand-outs in the cast include Peter Crook as the Fortune Teller at the beginning and as the Wizard of Oz later in the story. He is effective in both of his small scenes, especially when he is revealed as a human, and not a giant talking head. John Patrick Lowrie as Uncle Henry and the Oz Doorkeeper is very good as well. And for delivering some of the biggest laughs of the night, I want to point out Don Darryl Rivera as the Mayor of Munchkinland. He was such a delight to watch, and he certainly enhanced the fun of that scene, which made it one of my favorites from the show, although it isn’t my favorite from the movie.
There were some problems in the cast however. Sharva Maynard plays both Auntie Em and Glinda the Good Witch, and while I think she was completely believable as Auntie Em, she didn’t have much of a sweetness in her voice as Glinda. Her singing is good, but not as sweet and clear as expected. I would also like to point out Julie Briskman, who is noted to have played the White Witch in SCT’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” several years ago. This would lead me to assume that she would be perfect for the part as the Wicked Witch. Unfortunately, she doesn’t bring enough scariness to her part, although if she did play it like the Witch from the movie she would probably terrify some poor little children in the audience. Of course, the problem I could have had with her was that she wasn’t really green which ruins the effect of the character.
Now I don’t think I realized this before, but this show is very heavy on special effects. After all there is a twister, a melting witch, a big talking head, a crystal ball in which we see faces appear, and many other things too numerous to mention. This show accomplishes all of these great feats. Most notable are the effects used in the twister scene, in which Dorothy is seen in her room while things like cows and witches and a man in a rowboat fly by. This was spectacular in the way it was presented, and it generated some big applause afterwards. The use of a screen in front and back helped with most of these effects. The way that they got the giant wizard face to react to the characters was spectacular as well. I also like the way that the actors made Dorothy’s dog Toto (as a puppet) come to life on stage. While it may not look real, it is very cute in the way that it is presented. Seeing all of these special effects live is one of the main reasons to want to see this.
I found this show to be very fun and entertaining. The musical numbers are fun, such as the song by the Munchkins and the one in the Emerald City. The sets are very good and reminded me a lot of the movie, such as the way the Witch’s castle is designed to be creepy and gloomy like the film. The costumes are also very good, although not the best I could’ve seen for the Tin Man and Lion.
My suggestion is if you liked the movie as I did, go see this show with your family. If you’re on the fence about it, go see it anyway. I’m sure this production will help you find an appreciation for the show. It runs through January 17, although I would recommend you see it soon, as it is a very magical show and great to see for the holiday season.

The Wizard of Oz plays now through January 17, 2009 at
Seattle Children's Theatre
located at Seattle Center
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