The Wizard of Oz
nytheatre.com review by Nicholas Linnehan
June 16, 2012
It's always risky to do an adaptation of a great classic. The Wizard of Oz, is certainly one of them. So I was nervously excited to see Haberdasher Theatre's new take on this iconic work. Although uneven in its effectiveness, Haberdasher's version adds some great twists to the story that work well.
At rise we see Auntie Em, played convincingly by Christen Madrazo, scrubbing the floors as a Brooklyn single aunt raising her “exasperating niece.” Her accent is strong and we buy into it right away. So we are off to a good start. As in the movie Dorothy lands in Oz (Noho in this version), where she must avoid being killed by the Wicked Witch. Much of what happens follows the original story.
When they depart from the original version, they find the most success. In this adaptation, we gain insight into the “flying monkeys,” depicted as dumb creatures who just escaped from a bad episode of the Jersey Shore. In a great twist, we learn about the hilarious workers who live in the Emerald City. The ensemble, comprised of Melody Cheng, Joseph Dale Harris, Jennifer Michaels, and Nick Panagakos, fill out these positions with great fun and wit. They also do an amazing job transforming themselves into many different roles to move the story along.
Perhaps the most believable are Jeff Foley as the Scarecrow and Nicole J. Lippey as the Lion. I fell in love with these two characters. They captured the hearts and souls in their portrayals of these legendary roles. Yet, I could not help but wish that the Tin Man, played by Brian Ogston, did the same. Ogston seemed lost on stage and not quite sure what to do next, This slowed down the play considerably and detracted from the storytelling. Dorothy, played by Tami Soligan, is fine, although she seemed to lose energy as the show went on. Overall, there seemed to be an aimless quality to the work, which made it seem kind of random, almost like too much improvising was happening. There were times when the play felt laborious from the lack of energy and urgency.
Yet, the connections between most of the cast are palpable. You can really see how close knit they have become. I could not help but tear up when Dorothy says goodbye to her new-found friends. And I simply must mention the incredible costumes designed by Katie Grammes. I could not get over how well executed they were. They undoubtedly helped create the world of the play as one of fantasy and wonder.
As it is now, this adaptation has many loose threads. It seems like Jeanette Jaquish and Hollie Elizabeth Klem, who adapted this piece, are torn between paying homage to the original movie and their own vision for this work. I would encourage them to follow their instincts and not worry about departing from the classic story. There were moments of really interesting insight that left me titillated, but were then lost. Perhaps, they, like Dorothy, should follow their own “yellow brick road” and tell their version of this tale. When they honor their impulse they are right on the money. I hope they will keep going because there is something definitely here.