In celebration of the beloved 1939 MGM film, “The Wizard of Oz” made its Chicago debut March 8 at the iconic Chicago Theatre (175 N. State St.). Directed by Dean Sobon and choreographed by Amy McCleary, “The Wizard of Oz” will charm audiences — of all ages — with its melodic tunes and vibrant colors.
“The Wizard of Oz” brings to life the film of the same name starring Judy Garland (“A Star is Born,” “Meet Me in St. Louis”) as Dorothy. Both the musical and film stem from author L. Frank Baum’s book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” — written in Chicago. Baum’s book paved the way for the creation of a musical able to capture hearts over a century after its publishing.
“The Wizard of Oz” follows charismatic Dorothy (Kalie Kaimann) and her dog, Toto, who find themselves over the rainbow in the magical land of Oz after a tornado rips through Kansas. Following the yellow brick road, Dorothy meets Scarecrow (Chris Duir), Tin Man (Christopher Russell) and Lion (Victor Legarreta), who become her trusted companions on her journey to meet the Wizard of Oz (Kirk Lawrence).
Adapted from an iconic film, “The Wizard of Oz” gives a sense of familiarity to its audience, making this theater experience all the more memorable.
Admirers of the original film will be pleased with the musical — the music and dialogue in “The Wizard of Oz” follow those in the film to a T. Adults in the audience will likely be transported back to their childhood as they hum along to classic tunes including “Over the Rainbow” and “Munchkinland.”
Each act brings original film scenes to life with added jokes and sarcastic remarks — producing laughter from the audience. The singing and dancing flow well with each scene, and the script featured the right amount of comedic elements — Lion’s laughter and sobbing prompted little bursts of laughter from the audience.
Perhaps one of the most heart-capturing characters in the musical is Toto with his puppy-dog eyes and scrawny legs. Toto is played by Murphy, a white Brussels Griffon and Cairn Terrier mix, who’s cuddled and carried around by Dorothy for the majority of the show.
Animating the background scenery, including the tornado and poppy field, is a stage-long widescreen. The screen adds to the production’s visual effects, but its disadvantages outweigh its advantages. While the screen allowed audiences to feel as if they were in the eye of the tornado along with Dorothy, creative lighting and props would have been a better choice to instill this same feeling. The screen hijacks the opportunity for imagination, making this live theater experience seem more like a night at the cinema.
While the first act relied heavily on animations to enhance scenes, the second act featured sets which varied from scene to scene, making the production feel disembodied. The two acts are assembled in such a way, they appeared to be directed by two different people. The cast’s lively singing and dancing made up for the director’s detached composition.
The script of “The Wizard of Oz” included references to memorable scenes from Disney films including Mufasa blessing Simba in “The Lion King” and Ariel’s “He loves me; he loves me not” scene from “The Little Mermaid.” These seemingly insignificant additions added to the familiarity of the musical and paid tribute to beloved Disney films, making audiences believe they were right at home in the ornate Chicago Theatre.
“The Wizard of Oz” will entertain audiences with its warmth and charm, making it a great show to kick of the summer theater season in Chicago.
“The Wizard of Oz” will play at the Chicago Theatre through May 20. Tickets can be purchased at the Chicago Theatre box office by calling 212-465-6000 or online at www.chicago-theater.com/theaters/chicago-theater/the-wizard-of-oz.php. Ticket prices range from $39-$129.