For many people, L. Frank Baum's classic The Wizard of Oz is a collection of firsts. Whether it is the first movie they can ever remember seeing, the first time they remember getting scared (damn flying monkeys) or the first time they ever truly felt the wonder and power of a film. For 75 years, The Wizard of Oz has informed childhoods, including mine.
As I headed over to Terpsichorean Dance Studio to watch a rehearsal of Thoroughly Modern Productions' adaptation of the show, I was nervous and somewhat skeptical. I did not want Oz to be diluted for a whole new generation of Central Oregon kids if the show was bad (not that it could be any worse than last year's movie, Oz: The Great and Powerful). They deserve The Wizard of Oz to stay magical, and while it would be basically impossible for the show to reach the heights of the film, as long as it did not tarnish the legacy I figured we would be okay.
I should not have worried.
David DaCosta has really impressed me this year. His work starring in 2nd Street's magnificent Sweeney Todd and his directorial work with Oz show a man working at the top of his game, inspired by the canvases he is painting on instead of just going through the motions to stay busy.
Using the book and music originated by the Royal Shakespeare Company, his choice of which version of Oz to use is brilliant.
"This is the version closest to the movie with story line, orchestration, and the additional songs that were cut from the film," said DaCosta. He chose it so that people will get to see the version they know and love, while also getting what basically amounts to deleted scenes and bonus footage.
The first moment I knew the show was in safe hands came while watching the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion interacting. This being a rehearsal, no one was in costume and I had no idea which actors were playing which roles, but within 30 seconds I knew exactly who was who just based on the physicality of the performances.
Matthew Vigil is softspoken as the Tin Man and dazzles with his singing voice, while Tommy Kuchulis bounces around the stage with a manic energy guaranteed to make an entire generation of kids want to be at their first play. Gary Fulkerson channels Burt Lahr as The Cowardly Lion, yet makes the character wonderfully and completely his own.
But it is Skylar Adams as Dorothy Gale that left me sitting there pleasantly dumbfounded. Her performance will effortlessly pull the young and old alike back into their favorite memories of the film. What is truly astonishing about her performance is that she does not ape Judy Garland for a second: all of the wide-eyed innocence, the fear, the beauty of Dorothy's spirit—it is all Adams. I do not use this word often or lightly, but she is perfect.
Then the songs. I witnessed "Merry Old Land of Oz" and "The Jitterbug" and was left delighted with the beautifully layered sound spearheaded by musical director Scott Michaelsen. With a cast of almost 70 spanning adults and children, the Central Oregon audience is in store for a treat.
Without a single prop, set piece or person in costume, Thoroughly Modern Productions' version of The Wizard of Oz transported me to a place far away. My childhood.
The Wizard of Oz
Summit Theater, 2855 NW Clearwater Dr.
Tickets $15-$20, available at thoroughlymodernprod.com