Lower Ossington Theatre’s theatrical production of The Wizard of Oz is a vibrant retelling of the classic 1939 adventure film, which tells the story of Dorothy Gale (Isidora Kecman), a young girl living in Kansas with her Aunt Em (Jess McKay) and Uncle Henry (Benjamin Chaffey). After a run-in with her nasty neighbour Almira Gultch (Adeen Ashton), Dorothy tries to run away from home, only to be swept up in a tornado that takes her to the magical Land of Oz. While in Oz, Dorothy makes unlikely friends who join her quest to get back home.
The cast and crew did a great job of bringing the film to life. Directed by Lillian King, the musical opens just like the film does with the classic MGM introduction music and medley of songs featured in the film. The illuminated screen acting as the set’s backdrop features a rainbow just as the tune of “Over the Rainbow” plays. The screen and curved side panels framing the stage are effectively used throughout the play to set the tone for each scene with corresponding hues.
The set features two platforms on either side of the stage, complete with small staircases. These platforms allow for great staging during key scenes with the Wicked Witch of the West (also played by Adeen Ashton), in which one of the platforms represents a tower in her castle. Overall, the musical is staged to maximize the limited space of the theatre’s intimate setup. For a musical that features such vast settings, I never felt like the stage was too small for the action taking place. Choreographer Kiri-Lyn Muir ensured that the dance numbers are energetic and make proper use of the available space.
There are many wonderful nods to the film throughout the production. In the beginning of the musical, Dorothy is wearing a blue gingham dress with puffy pale pink sleeves that represent the sepia-toned Kansas. To recreate Glinda the Good Witch’s (Jess McKay) bubble entrances, an off-stage bubble machine churns out tons of little bubbles ahead of her for each scene. I’m a big fan of stage productions that incorporate little touches like these to acknowledge the films they’re based on.
The entire cast gives heartfelt performances. Kecman has an amazing voice and infuses the right balance of naivety and boldness in her Dorothy. Ashton instantly inspires fear and hatred the moment she steps onto the stage as Almira Gultch, and turns it up a few notches for the Wicked Witch. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Cowardly Lion, and Niko Combitsis is an absolute delight when playing both him and Zeke. Combitsis has the perfect voice, complete with ‘r’ rolls and cowardly cries, as well as the demeanour to showcase the Lion’s personality swings from boisterous king of the forest to absolute scaredy cat. Both Justan Myers as Scarecrow (also plays Hunk) and Will Lincoln-Gouett as Tinman (also plays Hickory) give endearing performances, and when paired with Combitsis, Kecman couldn’t have asked for better scene partners. Peter Higginson’s portrayal of The Wizard/Professor Marvel is so good that I actually prefer it over Frank Morgan’s film performance. An honourable mention goes out to Toto (Maizie), who steals the show every time she appears on stage.
The Wizard of Oz is playing at the Lower Ossington Theatre until Aug. 27. Tickets can be purchased at lowerossingtontheatre.com.