Only the creative minds of folks from The Puppet Co could find a zany way to give the Wizard of Oz story a fresh new spin while encouraging imagination and make believe. In their usual fashion, the company members took the time to deconstruct the scenes to relay the message with a contemporary flair while staying true to the original script, and created bouncy new tunes with ultra-witty lyrics, original music by Christopher Piper and Eric Brooks. Add in tremendous costumes and talented puppeteers committed to the integrity of the precious story, and you’ve got a sure-fire hit.
The story begins with a little girl, Dorothy (of course), played adoringly by Nora Achrati, who gets separated from her parents at the Kansas State Fair. Her new friends try to comfort her by telling her the now famous story about Dorothy’s journey to Oz.
Before you can say cyclone (nicely depicted swirling in the projections, lighting by Dan Brooks), the puppet Dorothy has landed with a thump in Munchkin Land, having toppled off a witch en route. The several pint-size munchkins are obviously overjoyed.
In addition to being a gifted puppeteer, Christopher Piper can capture and depict moments in a script with ease, and this one is no exception.Those munchkins are cleverly created by truncating the lower half of an elf-looking costume and adding small flailing legs and arms. Allan Stevens shines not only in manipulating the tin man, but is the director, set and costume designer. Christopher Piper handles the scarecrow, while Eric Brooks dons a lion body suit to the waist and roars and cowers up a storm. The four friends head off to the City of Emerald instead of Emerald City and are careful to keep from saying they’re “off to see the wizard” for proprietary infringement—the carefully orchestrated “almost” slips are hilarious.
Reminiscent of Judy Garland herself in the role, Achrati is captivating as Dorothy providing nice mannerisms for her puppet with careful sweet tones that can fix even the ugliest situation. Dorothy attends to Toto carefully tucked under her arm and then looks out for each friend with TLC. Puppets galore are used in this production, including tiny insects to lift the friends out of the catatonic poppy fields, masked flying monkeys, and, of course, the treacherous Wicked Witch who’s menacing tones and tattered flutter sent several youngsters scrambling to their Mom’s comforting arms.
The company lets the story unfold with a tender touch, making it clear that Dorothy doesn’t intend to hurt anyone. Only when faced with the possibility of never going home does she proceed to the Witch’s territory and is genuinely distressed when her actions result in the Witch’s demise. No spoiler alert there, but you have to go to the production to see what she does next. As the characters explain in breaking the third wall—it’s in the book!
This treasure of a story is being told by one of the most heralded children’s puppet companies in the country. Their 2009 rendition of Oz was awarded the American Puppetry’s highest honor, the UNIMA Citation for Excellence in Puppetry for a reason—it’s a high quality production and loads of fun. If there was ever a show to catch at The Puppet Co, this is the one.
The Wizard of Oz
Inspired by the Book Written by Frank Baum
Adapted by Christopher Piper
Directed by Allan Stevens
Produced by The Puppet Company
Reviewed by Debbie MinterJackson
Running time: 55 minutes, with no intermission