Theatre Review: Limelight Performing Arts Center- The Wizard of Oz
Conceptually riveting, LimePAC’s The Wizard of Oz
My relationship with The Wizard of Oz goes back to my childhood, as it does for so many of us. I’m sure you’ve seen production after production, just as I have. Some energizing and others flat, I am sure. But non-the-less we always go to see production after production because of those magical ruby slippers and what they represent. Well, I am here to tell you that I will NEVER have a need to see The Wizard of Oz again, because no one can come close to what I witnessed on opening night.
Being in theatre for the past 30 years, I have come across some innovative concepts. Joseph set in present day Philadelphia, Seussical set in a little boy’s bedroom (again present day), Spring Awakening set in a 1950s diner, to name a few. I have never seen anyone touch The Wizard of Oz. Last night, Chad Parson’s brings back what it means to be a director. Take a script, dissect it, and tell the story! His story was set in an old time carnival called Miracle Wonderland Carnival featuring side show acts like a Magician, a Weight Lifter, a Bearded Lady, a Gypsy, and others.
As we entered the theatre we were greeted by a carnival barker (Geoffrey Desiato) who set the scene for us. He introduced the individual side show performers and the theme for the evening. We were then transported by these people as they put on a show within show for us called, “The Wizard of Oz: A Family Spectacular.”
As most reviews tend to summarize the story, I don’t want to do that for you. We know the story, right? I don’t want to give away how this amazing concept takes shape. If I do that, I ruin the experience for you. I saw pictures of Joshua E. Gallagher’s flawless set (thanks to construction by Jeffrey Kimsey-Carroll) prior to the evening, and was glad I knew the setting ahead of time. That is what I have given you. Part of the magical experience I had last night was not knowing anything else that I was about to see, other than the original script. So, I am going to highlight some stand out performances and hope that my enthusiasm alone for the concept is enough to encourage to you attend Limelight Performing Arts Center’s impeccable production.
Let’s start by addressing the 3 children’s chorus groups that partake in each weekend of shows. Opening weekend featured Lily Lane-Aharonian, Molly Hopton, Gabby Scarantino, Eddie Sims, and Louise Sims. Clearly these cherubs represent the Munchkins among many other roles. Little Eddie Sims, however, is a true stand-out as Mayor of Munchkin City. Mark my words that this boy has a bright theatrical future ahead of him. Louise, who I believe to be his sister, also has the gift of strong stage presence. This group closes their performance after the first weekend, and then pass it on to two other children’s cast for the middle and final weekend.
The effervescent lead of Munchkinland is none other than Glinda. Colleen Clancy takes Glinda to a whole new level. A little bit of class and a lot of sass and a TON of comedy. Scenes between her and Wicked Witch of the West, Jenna Pinchbeck, are master classes straight out of the Lucy & Ethel catalogue.
I’m not sure what I loved most about the Lion, and the Tin-Man, and the Scarecrow, oh my! Firstly, Tin-Man played by Jared Rosenberg had the most innovative costume design from Rob Paluso. This is the first time I’ve seen Mr. Paluso’s work and I hope it’s not my last. You wouldn’t know it, but Scarecrow is played by a college freshman, Austy Hicks. The most refreshing performance to me, has to be Zoi Gianneas McNamara as Lion. That’s right. A full fledge female donned the regalia and turned this performance on its feet. Another truly inventive concept here that shouldn’t be missed. I was first introduced to Ms. McNamara when I reviewed Limelight’s production of Seussical where I was in awe of her robust talent. The feeling still holds true.
Juliet Davida Klinman, Grace Szczepkowski, and Christin Thomas are three triple threats that round out the ensemble but fully worth noting. They are a throwback to The Andrew Sisters or better yet, Destiny’s Child. There harmonies are flawless thanks to the musical direction of Sean Mehlbaum and their personalities take the cake. How they go from one scene to another and play multiple “characters” is a joy to watch.
Amanda Spivack leads the helm as Dorothy. She is the most traditional of the bunch and doesn’t stray too far from our lovely Miss Judy but she does make the character her own. Again, things like the set and costume really aids to that separation.
My favorite scene of the night was “The Jitterbug” as choreographed by Alicia Jayne Kelly. This is either a hit or miss in most productions and this is a bonafide HIT! I again do not want to give away the spectacle but I will say the choreography is innovative and the cast was having a ball performing it.
Tiny opening night guffaws only added to the ambiance of the evening. If something fell or was out of place, the actors didn’t ignore it. They improved their way into including it into the performance. This was also my first time at a Limelight production with a pit led by Sean Mehlbaum and it was a welcome addition. As with all productions of WOO, it’s slow to start. Once you get passed the tornado you are in for a wild ride. One, I assure you, that you won’t soon forget.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I see a multitude of productions for Theatre Philadelphia. This production holds up to what the Barrymore committee would deem excellence, in my humble opinion.
*This production has closed since original publication of this review with B Sharp Productions.