BOTTOM LINE: A new (but not so different) Wizard of Oz, updated for the 21st century, but as charming as ever.
Haberdasher's new production of The Wizard of Oz, adapted and directed by Hollie Elizabeth Klem, playfully interprets this classic story. The game cast performs with verve, and the result is an endearing evening of entertainment. In Klem's adaptation, Auntie Em re-locates to the country from Queens to care for her niece Dorothy. A travelling vacuum salesman comes to the house and foreshadows the arrival of another character who turns out to be a fraud (this time a Wizard). Other than that, however, the story plays out as expected: tornado; death by falling house for unsuspecting witch; journey to Oz; ruby slippers; a scarcrow, a tinman, and a cowardly lion to accompany the trip.
Nuances keep this adaptation fresh, like the very real forest threats of "lions, and tigers, and vampire dust bunnies." A wise emphasis on music also adds to a contemporary aesthetic. Led Zepplin's "Kashmir" sets up the Wizard's entrance, as does Cage the Elephant's "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" when the Wicked Witch takes the stage. This attention to music (and good music, at that) is a welcomed addition to this modernized story.
Though this production is geared toward adults, it wouldn't garner a rating higher than PG or PG-13, and only if you're really prude. There were a few kids in the audience the night I attended, and their rapt attention and laughter made the case for The Wizard of Oz's universal appeal. Haberdasher could (and for my money, should) remount this production for a longer run, and in a larger space (it feels confined in The Driling Company's tight quarters).
Haberdasher's Wizard of Oz is exuberant and lively. It is clear that the production's intention is entertainment, and the cast maintains an exuberance that is impossible to ignore. Tami Soligan, as Dorothy, portrays the naive but self-confident heroine with a grounded sweetness. She is the straight-man to her campy counterparts: Christen Madrazo, as Glinda, and Taylor Zito, as the Wicked Witch, are balls of energy who command attention, playing into their magical prowess. Jeff Foley, Brian Ogston, and Nicole J. Lippey, as the Scarcrow, Tinman, and Lion, respectively, each embrace the physical comedy of their characters in a cartoonish way.
The real stand-out is costume and make-up designer Katie Grammes, whose stunning visions bring to life fantastical elements through genuine artistry. The visual aesthetic enables the story's escapism, and the craftsmanship is of a level rarely seen off off Broadway. The costumes alone should enjoy a life long after this run on the Upper West Side.
Haberdasher's Wizard of Oz is a delightful presentation of a beloved story. It's a treat to see the tale live, and I am always grateful when a production's objective is as much about audience enjoyment as it is about artist satisfaction. The folks at Haberdasher clearly appreciate their audience, and that spirit is always worth celebrating.
(The Wizard of Oz plays at The Drilling Company, 236 West 78th Street, through June 30, 2012. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at smarttix.com or by calling 347.746.3274. For more show info visit haberdashertheatre.com.)