It's tough taking on an icon, especially an iconic movie and trying to translate that onto stage. But that's exactly what Seattle Children's Theatre is attempting with their current stage production of the iconic 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" based on L. Frank Baum's 1900 book. And while the technical artistry of the show is top notch and completely conveyed the magic of the film, a few of the performances left me wanting.
I can't imagine that you wouldn't be familiar with the source material as it's one of the most famous films/stories in history. Little Kansas girl (Kasey Nusbickel) runs away from home feeling her Aunt and Uncle (Sharva Maynard and Hugh Hastings) don't understand her (and to save her dog). As she begins her journey a cyclone hits and she is swept away to the magical Land of Oz. In order to get home she is told to seek out the help of the Wizard (Peter Crook) and along the journey she meets a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Lion (Auston James, Dane Stokinger and Todd Jefferson Moore) who become three very loyal friends. Friends she will need as she's being hunted down by a Wicked Witch (Julie Briskman) who wants her magic Ruby Slippers. It's one of the most beloved stories in American history and consequentially has been redone, added to, amended, and parodied countless times. But this was not a parody. SCT has taken the MGM script almost verbatim and transplanted it onto their stage, songs and all.
But how can they make such a cinematic spectacle happen on stage? Well chalk that up to a wonderful set from Matt Smucker, evocative lights and sound from Rick Paulsen and Chris R. Walker and some magical projections from Lara Kaminsky and L.B. Morse. Their technical wizardry makes the show what it is and really makes the classic shine on stage. And I also must mention the fabulous bit of puppetry from Annett Mateo who not only gave us some hysterical crows but brought Toto to life.
I only wish all the performances were up to that caliber to truly do justice to the piece. Nusbickel looks the part of Dorothy and certainly has a gorgeous voice to pull off the signature, "Over the Rainbow". Unfortunately she felt forced in the role and lacked any kind of growth or arc throughout. Equally disappointing was James as the Scarecrow who felt to be going through the motions and lacked any chemistry with Dorothy. Fortunately, the rest of the cast is superb. Stokinger has an adorable sweetness to his Tin Man and completely inhabits the role. Moore is a joy to watch as the Cowardly Lion and lends him a goofy air that the kids in the audience ate up. Hastings and Maynard are lovely as the doting Uncle Henry and Aunt Em and then pull off some marvelous transformations into the Emerald City Guard and Glinda the Good Witch. Crook manages a kind of wise charlatan to the Wizard. And the always fantastic Briskman is deliciously … well … wicked as the shoe obsessed witch.
For the kids in the audience they may not have noticed anything amiss, but the adults out there (the parents of devotees of the film like me) deserved just a little more. It's a magical ride, but didn't quite hit the mark.
"The Wizard of Oz" performs at Seattle Children's Theatre through January 6th. For tickets or information contact the SCT box office at 206-441-3322 or visit them online at www.sct.org.
Photo Credit: Chris Bennion