Imaginative, kinetic, engaging, and bold – those are just a few words to describe The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Synetic Theater. For the young and young at heart, this fanciful and faithful adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s most famous tale will tickle funny bones and captivate hearts while dazzling with the lyrical dance and movement for which this company is known.
Based on audience response and popular demand, this production will likely join other classic Synetic shows that are remounted in the future. I must confess, for this old, sentimental sap, the Wizard of Oz stories are personal favorites of my own. Ryan Sellers and Tori Bertocci have fashioned a winning combination of theatrical magic, movement and spectacle that transported this Oz-fan across the vast desert and into the Emerald City.
I commend the adaptors for taking the sweeping and varied adventures of Dorothy and Toto and crafting this delightful show into an economical 100 minutes that encapsulates the journey to Oz, including parts of the story we know from other stage and film versions while including less familiar episodes from the 1900 novel that add depth and variety that is wholly refreshing. More about that soon.
As most of us know young Dorothy Gale lives on the prairies of Kansas with her dog Toto, and was playing among the cornfields when a cyclone sweeps the plains and transports her to a fantastical land of witches and wild beasts. But did you know the hum-bug himself, the Wizard, inadvertently caused the pivotal twister? In fact, this adaptation dangles the presence of the title character throughout the plot, starting with a touching opening sequence involving the lonely Omaha native and a mechanical bird which tugs at the heart before the story really takes off.
Robert Bowen Smith captures the essence of the Midwesterner with humor and pathos. As the Wizard stays just a few steps ahead of Dorothy and her enchanted companions on their pilgrimage to the Emerald City, the stakes are raised dramaturgically, making the Wizard more than the usual comical cameo role.
As the wide-eyed Dorothy, Emily Whitworth is an ideal vessel – charming, expressive, sweet and determined – to take on this iconic role. Whitworth takes on the varied choreography with aplomb and has a winning chemistry with all of her Yellow Brick Road sidekicks, starting with the frenetic and barky Jacob Yeh as her faithful and naughty canine Toto. Dallas Tolentino has the rubber limbs and childlike glee requisite to bring the straw-stuffed Scarecrow to life. As the romantically rusty Tin Man, Philip Fletcher’s heartfelt performance as the heartless may wring a tear from the eye of the most cynical observer. The inclusion of a tragic love story angle as part of the Tin Man’s origin story was a masterstroke of invention by Sellers and Bertocci.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
closes August 12, 2018
Details and tickets
Rounding out Dorothy’s traveling companions, Lee Liebeskind dons the paws and dreadlock mane of the Cowardly Lion and mines the role for all of its comic potential.
Another hallmark of this Wizard is the premise that in Oz, words are powerful and are the providence of wizards and witches; most of the Ozian residents do not speak, which is why they hail Dorothy as a powerful witch when her windswept house fells the Wicked Witch of the East. Otherwise, the Wizard, along with the good witches and bad witches speak. And in another poignant development, as the Scarecrow takes to the road with Dorothy, he begins to find his own voice, growing in intelligence even before the Wizard grants his wish for brains.
These and other little touches, such as the pit-stop in China-Land, peopled with the stylish and elegant yet fragile men and women made of porcelain, make for a adventure that will surely please fans of the 118-year-old story and newbies alike. And what is a trip to Oz without the role call of witches to add their magical touch? Synetic has Suzy Alden, distinctive as the good Witches of the North and South, and Natalie Cutcher as the Wicked Witch of the West. Both Alden and Cutcher put their own stamp on these famous enchantresses. The ensemble likewise takes on a myriad roles – from Munchkins, China Dolls, Emerald City citizens, flying monkeys and even the cyclone itself – with energetic skill and the usual Synetic brilliance.
Along with the fine work by the director, choreographer, and cast, composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze provides a vivid soundscape and evocative score for Oz that enhances quiet moments, dance sequences, and fight scenes with a fitting soundtrack that is as eclectic as the variety of dance moves employed to tell the story. Alison Samantha Johnson’s costumes range from Dorothy’s familiar blue gingham dress, her own interpretation of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion costumes. Johnson’s winged wardrobe for the flying monkeys help add to the darker qualities of the storytelling. Amanda Kircher turns in a splendid lighting design that punctuates the action using the intimate performance space to great advantage.
Speaking of the performance venue, for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz do not head over to their usual venue in Arlington. Due to some water damage and subsequent repair work, Synetic’s Oz is being housed in the Devine Theatre space at the Davis Performing Arts Center on the Georgetown University campus. Do not let the new location deter your decision to take this journey to Oz. After joining Dorothy and friends in vanquishing the wicked witches and confronting the Wizard himself, you can always go home again.
One more note: check ahead for tickets. The Devine black box is a smaller venue than Synetic’s homebase; some performances are selling out quickly.
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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz . Adapted from L. Frank Baum’s classic by Ryan Sellers and Tori Bertocci . Directed by Ryan Sellers . Choreographed by Tori Bertocci . Featuring: Emily Whitworth, Dallas Tolentino, Philip Fletcher, Lee Liebeskind, Natalie Cutcher, Suzy Alden, Robert Bowen Smith, Jacob Yeh, Kevin Thorne II, Pasquale Guiducci, Anne Flowers, and Megan Khaziran . Music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze . Scenic design by Patti Kalil . Lighting design by Amanda Kircher . Sound Design by Thomas Sowers . Costume design by Alison Samantha Johnson . Resident stage manager Marley Giggey . Produced by Synetic Theater . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.
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