Back to the land of Oz at New American Theater

Back to the land of Oz at New American Theater

By Edith McCauley

By Edith McCauley

Theater Critic

As Dorothy and her companions travel the yellow brick road, the world of fantasy enchants and takes us on a familiar adventure. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, written in 1900 and first staged as a musical in 1903, has become a tradition. NAT’s version retells the story with a few twists. Added to the plot is a sequence in Act II introducing us to “The Jitterbug” (Dan Walsh). The Evil Witch plans to dispose of Dorothy and her friends, who are dancing ‘til they drop. This sequence in the 1930’s movie was cut, an excellent replacement for the evil monkeys.

Petite Makeesha Sharp as Dorothy has a talent that can make a little girl from Kansas as believable as Anne Frank hiding with her family in an attic in the Netherlands. As loose-limbed and funny as Ray Bolger, Keith Conway as the Scarecrow transforms his training as a fight director into the physical quirks of a man of straw. Kevin McKillip, the Tin Man, another victim of the Witch of the West, and Bradley Mott, the rough, gruff, cowardly Lion, complete the trio of characters we know so well. Mott moves gracefully with the nuances that give the loveable Lion the personae of a cuddly teddy bear. Companions and friends forever, they conquer all obstacles.

Barbara McCaskey (Aunt Em/Glinda) sparkles vocally and visually, emanating her own special charm. Gary Wingert returns to NAT as Uncle Henry and the Wizard. A bumbling, insecure trickster, the role shows his ability to get a laugh with the raising of an eyebrow.

Sweeping across the stage with a fling of her cape, Gail Dartez as the Wicked Witch of the West is evil incarnate. Dire threats only unify Dorothy and her companions. Wingert and Dartez bring to NAT years of experience and professional performances that evolve from their devotion to their art.

W. Alan Williams’ costumes from Dorothy’s blue and white checked dress and ruby slippers, to the Lion’s golden tresses, impart true authenticity to the entire production. His design for the Cyclone that towers above Casiena Raether as she weaves and dances across the stage is imagination at its best. Dan Conley’s simple sets, effective in the impressions conveyed, hint at reality. The front facade of a Kansas farmhouse, a high, dark wall, the ominous Witch’s lair, and the huge mask-like face of Oz, mesmerizing all, prove simplicity allows us to imagine the details. The effectiveness of Eric Stehl’s lighting design culminates in the eerie green face of the Wizard.

From the opening notes of the score, we recognize Tim Anderson’s musical acuity. A group of competent musicians performing on a rotating basis include keyboards, bass, percussion and strings. Dance sequences choreographed by Cyndi Conley use movement well. Working with actors, not professional dancers, can be a challenge. Conley, like Chuck Hoenes, creates pieces that work.

Fantasy reigns this holiday season: The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, The Hobbit and The Nutcracker offer children and adults a moment of joy. Opening The Wizard of Oz, the Munchkins trooped on stage with all the enthusiasm of seasoned performers. Bryan Keller and Paul J. Steffan (Lollipop League), in spite of their age, acted with the greatest of confidence. The inclusion of children makes The Wizard of Oz special. Running through Dec. 30, 2001, this is a show that will add to your holiday pleasure.

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