by Hugh Hunter
Bring your children and relive your childhood in the delightful holiday season revival of “The Wizard of Oz” now running at Quintessence Theatre. Based on the 1987 adaptation by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the stage turns into a land of enchantment.
As a kid, I read a lot of Frank Baum’s “Oz” books. I vividly remember sitting on my front stoop when I was 10, consoling myself with the thought that Dorothy Gale was a 12-year-old child, so I still had time for something magical to carry me off to a more interesting place.
This show takes you there. Artistic Director Alex Burns told us that Quintessence “broke the bank” with this production, and I believe him. They brought in acclaimed designer Brian Sidney Bembridge to do the dazzling set and lights, mixing in dramatic bursts of smoke. The character defining costumes by Kelly Myers and musical direction of Tom Fosnocht sparkle.
Kane’s script tracks the 1939 Judy Garland movie, and most of Harold Arlen & E.Y. Harburg’s songbook is intact. One notable exception: this score includes “Jitterbug,” cut from the screen version because its gaiety lessened the dark drama of the finale. Here, it gives choreographer Adrienne Maitland the chance to bring the cast on stage for the night’s most spirited dance number.
The show is so jumping with life that ensemble actors are as prominent as the “stars.” Chloe Mollis McBride is the balletic “Cyclone,” Michael Liebhauser is Oz’s Gatekeeper, and Jessica Money is the Winkie General. But in addition to these cameos, we see them all night in flash, supernumerary roles – crows, hooded specters, monkeys, enticing apple trees. Their surprisingly poignant version of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” drew an ovation.
Not that the show lacks for stars. Multiple Barrymore winners E. Ashley Izard (Wicked Witch) and Jered McLenigan (Cowardly Lion) light up the stage. Chicago-based actor Doug Hara plays Tin Man. Rounding out the cast are Leah Gabriel (Glinda), Quintessence veterans Andrew Betz (Scarecrow) and John Basiulil (The Wizard), while local eighth grader Susannah Hughes is an endearing Toto.
Director Lee Cortopassi casts lively Leigha Kato to play Dorothy. The University of the Arts graduate has starred in past Quintessence shows (playing Eliza Doolittle, Saint Joan of Arc). Again, she is a winsome presence, sometimes fearful and imploring, sometimes aglow with wondrous joy.
The Quintessence show delights in playing on your familiarity with the movie version, mixing in occasional gibes I leave you to discover. It is also a terrific show for kids, and the lyrics from the “Optimistic Voices” song capture its joyful, magical spirit: “You’re out of the woods/You’re out of the dark/You’re out of the night/Step into the sun/Step into the light.”
Quintessence Theatre is located at 7137 Germantown Ave. “The Wizard of Oz” will run through Dec 29. Tickets are available online or by calling 215-987-4450.