Theatre Cedar Rapids’ production of “Wizard of Oz” exceeded my expectations.
Mind you. They were low. The beloved L. Frank Baum tale, including the 1939 Hollywood version starring Judy Garland, has never been my favorite. If I’ve seen the movie all the way through, it was a long long time ago.
So perhaps I was in one of the best positions to see Friday’s opening night show. Unlike many audience members, the cast didn’t run the risk of disappointing a lifetime fan of past tellings.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect to laugh out loud. I certainly didn’t expect to cry (more on that in a minute) and I most definitely didn’t count on falling for the story after more than 30 years of ambivalence toward it.
Not only did Theatre Cedar Rapids convert me, they may have created a lifelong fan out of my date for the evening – my 5-year-old daughter, who was nervous at opening curtain on two counts: the green witch and the dog (she’s a nervous nelly around animals, particularly canines).
Parents need not worry about this show being too much for their youngsters: “It was a little scary,” my daughter says. “But I think they could just cuddle up with their mommy.”
- “The Wizard of Oz“
- Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
- When: Friday (4/26) to May 19; 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
- Tickets: $20 to $30, TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org
- Extra: 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday (4/27), join the cast for a day of Oz fun at Ushers Ferry Historic Village, Cedar Rapids; $13 and $14 children, free for adults, register at (319) 286-5731 or crrec.org
Everyone involved with this production should be proud of their efforts on stage, behind the curtain, in the musician’s pit. The set design added to, but did not distract from the story. Director Leslie Charipar says she grew up loving the movie and promised fans they wouldn’t be disappointed.
Not being able to speak as one, I can judge based on the reaction of the audience around me. I think it’s fair to say she followed through on her pledge.
Unlike some of our reviewers, I’m not a theater person, did not grow up on stages. I do, though, enjoy and appreciate a good show. And, the “Wizard of Oz” is just that and more.
Melissa Tormene as Dorothy was a wonderfully optimistic leader of her rag tag companions – the Cowardly Lion, Tinman and Scarecrow. Played by Daniel Kelchen, Jonathan Schmidt and Michael Range respectively, each brought many smiles to my face with their antics and one-liners. Kelchen especially captured the lion’s cowardice in a most hilarious fashion.
David Morton stepped into high heels and the traditionally female, if not feminine, role of the Wicked Witch of the West with just enough grouchy gusto. Played by Morton, the witch wasn’t a caricature of evil, just a real, well, witch (if you know what I mean).
Contrastingly, Tormene’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was beautiful and hopeful.
It was the Munchkins, though, who stole the show with their “Munchkin Land Song” (“Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead”) and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” Played by a dozen elementary school-age children, the Munchkins weren’t the gaudy and just a little bit creepy characters I remember from the movie. Instead, dressed as townspeople – waitresses, mechanics, a nurse, in skirts and suits – they miniature adults and too stinking cute for words.
They were also the reason I cried.
My daughter and I were seated next to the mother of one of the youngest munchkins Avery Moomey. Her excitement, pride and tears, made the same emotions well up in me.
Another small part – in physical size – that deserves a mention is that of Toto, played in the opening and closing scenes by Kramer James Hammes Cane. I don’t know what this pooch’s personality is like off stage, but on he is the most patient and calm creature I’ve ever encountered. He was so docile that I wondered at first why they swapped out a stuffed version for the many of the scenes. The reason, though, was clear when toward the end in the witch’s castle, the animal was literally thrown on and off stage.
Even my dog-hating daughter, when asked what she liked about the show, answered: “ I liked the little girl and her high heels and her doggy.”
Charipar notes in the program that this story of going home was in some ways a homecoming for her, remembering watching the movie as a child and wondering why Dorothy wanted so badly to get back to her family. It’s also a tale of good prevailing over evil. These are timeless messages for audiences of all ages.
I may not have fond memories of the “Wizard of Oz” from my childhood. But, I do now, as an adult and parent. And I have TCR to thank for that.
Equally important, is another lesson — “not being mean to your mommy and daddy” — the show left with my daughter.
Thank you Theatre Cedar Rapids.