It’s hard to imagine there’s anyone alive who hasn’t seen the Wizard of Oz. Who has never experienced the thrill as Dorothy opens the door on the Technicolor world beyond the rainbow?
And who has never known the chilling cackle of perhaps the most iconic villain in cinematic history? Even Thanos never terrorized a little girl for her shoes — and speaking of shoes, let’s all thank the person(s) who had the good sense to change the original silver shoes into ruby slippers.
Coming from someone who has owned a few pairs over the years, the post-Halloween blisters are worth every glittering red sparkle, but I digress.
When my quiet strawberry of a stepdaughter couldn’t remember if she had ever even heard of green witches, munchkins or Kansas, I quickly jumped at the chance to take her to The Shedd’s colorful adaptation of L. Frank Balm’s classic tale of a young girl in search of home.
“Oh, I think I know this,” says my tiny date, looking over her program. “Are they going to have a real dog and flying monkeys?”
Thankfully, The Shedd did not disappoint in delivering the familiar to its audience. The principal performances — Dorothy (Kenady Conforth), who is a dead ringer for Judy Garland; Scarecrow (Tom Wilson); Tinman (Dylan Stasack); and Cowardly Lion (Miriam Major) — although a little campy at times, are exuberant and true to form.
It’s a lot of what you would expect: the Wicked Witch (Janet Witlow) is terrifying and yet glamorous in green, Glinda (Sophia James) floats delicately around in her signature stunning pink hat and the musical numbers are hard not to join in on. Stasack’s voice is especially shiny, much like his “Club Kids” Tinman suit.
Visually, director Richard Jessup’s production is, mostly, a lot of fun. The opening scenes of the Midwest plains are dull and dry as expected; colorless drab costumes mimic the shadowy painted backdrop of Kansas, but Oz itself is an entirely different time-traveling costume party, thanks to designer Rhonda Turnquist. Neon candied pinstriped munchkins with sneakers on their knees are a bit reminiscent of Oktoberfest on acid.
The mayor of Munchkinland looks more like a ’70s pimp than a mayor (and I mean that in the best way possible), and the distinctive puffy shoulders of the ’80s are almost more enviable than the ruby slippers themselves.
Jessup’s extensive background in choreography is especially evident in the constant and complex movements on stage. Likewise, chorographer Caitlin Christopher uses artful dancing in those hard-to-translate-from-big-screen-to-small-stage moments such as the classic twister scene, and the flying monkeys did indeed have their day.
Furthermore “Jitterbug,” a late post-intermission song and dance, is perhaps the most elaborate number. An ensemble of Day-Glo bugs twirling Conforth around is especially fun to watch!
All in all, The Shedd’s production of the Wizard of Oz is an interesting culmination of the familiar, which seems a little too safe at times, and an imaginative display of movement and costume design.
“What did you think?” I asked my date.
“I liked it,” she answered sleepily. “The dog was cute, and I want that pink hat.”
Me too, kid. Me too.
The Wizard of Oz runs through Sept. 30 at The Shedd; $21-$38, tickets at theshedd.org.