A strong sense of imagination and childlike wonder are two things I personally endorse, and what better way for us all to get in touch with our inner journeyers than to dance a jig down the Yellow Brick Road to the glorious Emerald City in Oz?
L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz (adapted by John Kane for the stage) is a very fitting addition to Young People’s Theatre’s 50th Anniversary season. It is a timeless classic fueled by heavy emotion, the one thing that all humans young and old can connect to, even if it oftentimes doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Among the depressed and overworked in Kansas, lives a fervent young girl named Dorothy (Vanessa Sears), who is furious at her family for allowing the snobbish Miss Gulch (Amy Matysio) to take away her lively dog Toto (Nathan Carroll) for biting her.
Dorothy’s family tries to talk sense into her, but she ultimately wants to run away. Toto somehow escapes from Gulch’s clutches, and the two are transported to the fantastical Land of Oz – tornado style. There, Dorothy comes across extraordinary new companions and enemies on her quest to return home again, all the while helping the Scarecrow (David Coomber) get a brain, the Tinman (Matthew G. Brown) find his heart, and the Lion (Justin Bott) muster up some courage.
It’s really hard for me to say which performances I enjoyed the most because, quite honestly, I found them all to be remarkable. Director Joey Tremblay envisioned a stark contrast between the drudging conditions in Kansas and the seemingly promising beauty of Oz, and it truly shows. The people in Dorothy’s life are unhappy in their current situation, but you can tell they try to make the most of it, providing an atmosphere with a hint of hope that was likely once there and probably will be again. This is the sort of persevering attitude Dorothy subconsciously carries with her as she traverses Oz.
As for Dorothy herself, I cannot think of more a suitable casting choice than Sears. There is so much genuine love and care about everything happening around her that she conveys through this character. Her wide-eyed enthusiasm for adventure and making things right is incredibly endearing.
Sears’ voice is also absolutely wonderful – I’ll admit, it put tears in my eyes, especially during “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow." The camaraderie she shares with her equally enchanting friends is very believable; they are trustworthy and exactly the kind of whimsical characters you’d want to go on an escapade with.
Amy Matysio gets completely lost in her role as the Wicked Witch of the West. She is enjoying every second of it, deviously scheming Dorothy’s demise and cackling up a storm as she does it.
Dayna Tekatch’s choreography is fluid and full of variety; it never feels too busy or overdone, and yet it has just enough animated energy to keep Harold Alden and E.Y. Harburg’s memorable songs going. The show has pacing down to a T – Tremblay knows when to be vibrant and colorful, but also when to take a break and make way for more intimate moments.
Speaking of intimacy, hearing Ali Raney on the violin and Rob McLaren on the banjo playing bluegrass for all the musical numbers was a nice change from the usual, grand orchestrations present in musicals. David Boechler’s sets are striking and effective, each one making clear where the characters are located in each scene even before they say anything. They, along with the props, have that vintage aesthetic we all recognize, showcasing the simple life in Kansas and the sparkling gleam of Oz. The same can be said for Robin Fisher’s costumes – much effort and creativity was put into them. My personal favorite is the Jitterbug (Omar Forrest); he has this mask with laser eyes that is terrifying, yet somehow cute at the same time.
Audience participation was among the prominent features in the show, and I liked the actors’ constant nods and winks to us. They were silly enough to get the children giggling, but they also had the right amount of heart to leave a lasting impact on the rest of us.
The Wizard of Oz runs at Young People’s Theatre until May 15. For more information, visit youngpeoplestheatre.ca.
Cast: Justin Bott, Matthew G. Brown, Nathan Carroll, David Coomber, Jonathan Ellul, Omar Forrest, Alana Hibbert, Amy Matysio, Jamie McRoberts and Vanessa Sears.