A trip to the wonderful Land of Oz is almost required at least once a year, and is certainly a welcome journey during this festive season.
Those venturing to Home Made Theater to experience Elizabeth Fuller Chapman's 1928 stage adaptation can expect a version far more faithful to the original 1900 book by L. Frank Baum than the iconic 1939 film was. Although this non-musical, abridged telling often feels like a Cliff's Notes version of the story, the brisk 80 minutes (including intermission) is entertaining and contains excellent work by several members of the cast, under first-time director Toni Anderson-Sommo.
This is the classic tale of young Dorothy Gale (Kathryn Starczewski) of Kansas who, along with her dog Toto (Caroline Whitaker), is swept away by a tornado beyond a mysterious desert to the land of Oz, only to land on top of a now-deceased evil witch wearing enchanted slippers.
They depart the land of the Munchkins, and head down a yellow brick road toward the Emerald City and its all-powerful Wizard (John Noble) for assistance in returning home. Along the way, they meet up with a brainless Scarecrow (Conrad Browne Lörcher), a heartless Tin Woodman (Alan Edstrom) and a Lion (Patrick Leathem) with a crippling inferiority complex.
It is best to encourage your little ones to abandon comparisons to the famous film starring Judy Garland, although you will read them here, as well as references to the original book. Except for the ruby slippers, which are retained in this adaptation, although silver in the original book, many details of the bestseller were abandoned for the movie. Among those restored in this stage version (there is also one from 1902!) are a fourth witch, a protective kiss on Dorothy's forehead, a magical golden cap, the items used to grant Dorothy's companions their wishes and each of the four traveling companions first perceiving the wizard in different guises.
However, why the Cowardly Lion would be terrified by a ball of fire is beyond me, as were the versions presented to the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman. The incarnations seen by Dorothy's friends were either prop goof-ups or a head-scratching misstep by Chapman, as Baum was very specific about what each of the three Ozians saw. Other specifics from the book are made mention of, such as a pack of wolves, a flock of crows and a swarm of bees, but those three encounters are reduced to a single paragraph spoken by the Wicked Witch of the West (gleefully played by Gloria Ford) in her single, brief appearance in Act 2.
For the most part, the cast is up to the task, including several younger members making their HMT debut. Several members of the cast successfully put their own stamp on these beloved characters, avoiding mimicking the mannerisms of their film counterparts, no matter how familiar they may be to many of us.
In particular, Starczewski, Lörcher, Edstrom and Noble are delightful in making these characters physically and vocally their own. Whitaker's Toto, a small black dog in the book, a terrier in the film, and now a feisty little dalmatian inspires lots of laughs with her antics, as does Leathem's Cowardly Lion (although I detected the ghost of Bert Lahr in his performance more than once.) The two surviving witches are the Witch of the South (Emily Farnham Mastrianni) and Glinda (played opening night by Ann D'Alessandro). A bit of trivia (from someone with 28 of the 35 Oz books in her guest room) is that Glinda was actually the Witch of the South and the kindly, elderly Witch of the North rarely made an appearance in the original tales.
The set, designed by Jim Chaffin, is dominated by a full-stage ancient parchment map of the Land of Oz. Several functional set pieces enter and exit, some far more efficiently than others. Sound, a problem in past years, is excellent, although there was a touch of feedback when soft-spoken, sparkly Glinda made her appearance near the end of the show. Costumes by Diane O'Neill Filer are colorful and varied and special effects kudos must be given to the melting of the Wicked Witch in particular.
The opening night crowd included many families with small children who particularly enjoyed the more physical humor and sight gags, and it was far easier to forgive little feet hitting the back of my seat than it would be on a trans-Atlantic flight, mostly because they belonged to someone with an infectious giggle. This is light, enjoyable family-fare and if it inspires young ones to explore the books beyond the movie, all the better.
Home Made Theater presents Elizabeth Fuller Chapman's dramatization of L. Frank Baum's THE WIZARD OF OZ, directed by Toni Anderson-Sommo at the Spa Little Theater in the Saratoga State Park.
Dec. 14 at 7:30 pm, Dec. 16 at 1:00 pm and Dec. 15 at 1:00 pm and 4:30 pm.
Tickets are $18 for adults & $12 for children 12 and under.
To purchase tickets or for information (5180 587-4427 or go to homemadetheater.org. General seating.
ON THE WIRE