By Jackson Riley
There is no shortage of Wizard of Oz entertainment in the Windy City, currently home to two productions of The Wiz, with the national tour of Wicked prepping its return. Emerald City recently wrapped its first season on NBC. Phillip Klapperich's adaptation of The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz returns after twelve years, and the main drawback to this fun and colorful production is Klapperich's basic, unimaginative attempt at updating a classic. We've had hundreds of Oz adaptations through the years - why present a show in which the audience sees every beat ahead of time, and already knows every moment?
Kara Davidson leads the cast as Dorothy. Reminiscent of a young Bryce Dallas Howard, Davidson is sweet and funny. Her scrappiness overshadowed her many flubs in line delivery, and she created wonderful, emotional bonds with each of her scene partners. Christine Mayland Perkins steals the show as the hilarious Scarecrow, and AnJi White is as good a villain as any...if you can look past the production's choice to cast the evil sorceress as a woman of color in a largely Caucasian assembly of artists.
The Ozian ensemble displays unending energy, though many of their moments bring little to the play. Klapperich's decision to use music (and singing) is charming, but under-cooked. The interludes halt the pacing of the show, and the musical and vocal abilities of the ensemble are nothing to write home about. Klapperich's Oz is neither a musical nor a play with music. It's surprising that these moments still feel so out of place after twelve years of development.
Speaking of the unnecessary, Joey Steakley stars as Toto (a hybrid stuffed animal and puppet) and is given several monologues to provide exposition and the like. Steakley does his best, but this felt like an inside joke that somehow made it into the final product.
The House Theater doesn't do anything subtly, and The Great and Powerful Oz excitedly features flying monkeys and large puppets. Once the gimmick passes, however, one may find themselves staring at the large ropes and harnesses the actors are obviously wearing, and the half-baked, chaotic fight choreography.
Yes, Dorothy wears bloody boots instead of ruby slippers. The violence is slightly closer to PG than G, and at least one main character doesn't make it to the end. However, this is not the grown-up reinvention of The Wizard of Oz that The House Theater has publicized. The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz is a good production of a story we all know, and not much more.
The House Theatre of Chicago announces the final production in their 15th season, The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, adapted from L. Frank Baum’s book by The House Theatre Company Member Phillip Klapperich and directed by The House Theatre Company Member Tommy Rapley, playing at the Chopin Upstairs Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., March 17 – May 7. Opening/press night is Monday, March 27 at 7 p.m. The performance schedule is Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. and Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. Preview tickets (March 17 – March 26, no performance March 25) are $15 and regular run tickets range from $30 – $45. The show is recommended for adults and kids aged 10 and up. Same-day tickets for students and industry professionals are $15 and available for all dates, seats permitting. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit www.thehousetheatre.com or call 773.769.3832.