In 1900, L. Frank Baum published “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Two years later he worked with others to create a musical version for the stage. After opening in Chicago, it played for two years on Broadway, then toured the country. But it is the 1939 MGM version of the musical that we know today. Dormant for seventeen years, it began is classic status when it was released for television in 1956 and is now one of the most seen films in movie history.
It is hard for anyone to picture anyone else but Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale along with her cohorts, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr. The current “Wizard,” however, is based on the adaptation made for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987.
If you begin to compare the Quintessence Theatre’s production to the Hollywood version, you will come away disappointed. But if you want to see a beautiful story on the intimate small stage, with some fine actors, you will walk away humming the famous songs of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg., who created the music for the film. You will also love Leigha Kato as Dorothy.
The story revolves around the 11-year-old Dorothy’s dreamy voyage to the Land of Oz. The studio couldn’t get the appropriately aged Shirley Temple and had to “settle” for the older, heavier, Judy Garland. The rest is movie history. Leigha Kato brings that innocent youth of a preteen to the stage. She has a beautiful voice. She is also an outstanding actor. In fact, she came east from California to go to University of the Arts ten years ago and has since performed widely in Philadelphia and New York. Yes, she is not 11, but you’d never know it.
The trio of The Scarecrow (Andrew Betz), Tin Man (Doug Hara), and Cowardly Lion (Jered McLenigan) is a strong one. The costumes by Kelly Myers were, for the most part, excellent, though I would have liked a mane for the lion and something for the girl who played the dog Toto. I was not enamored by the witches (the good witch Glenda and the Wicked Witch of the West) or the Wizard himself, but I confess to being unable to view it without visualizing Margaret Hamilton and Frank Morgan from the film.
There was another musical number, cut from the film, “Jitterbug,” meant to lighten up the ominous story. And I learned that neither the Wicked Witch’s broomstick nor Dorothy’s ruby red slippers were part of the original story.
It’s a joy to see “The Wizard of Oz” on stage, and though the budget prevents the mounting of extraordinary sets, Brian Sidney Bembridge has devised a series of scenes to put you right there in the cyclone, on the road to Oz, and in Oz itself. Kids will love it.
“The Wizard of Oz” at Quintessence Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave., Phila, PA 19119, 215-987-4450. Quintessencetheatre.org Thru Jan. 3, 2020.