Review: Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Wizard of Oz Brings Family Classic Film to Life

Photo by Liz Lauren.

By Katie Priest

As many people’s first introduction to the world of Chicago theater, Chicago Shakespeare Theater never fails to produce a memorable performance. The Wizard of Oz is one of the theater’s many family friendly productions, and CST applies the same high quality they would use for Shakespeare. Directed by Brian Hill and choreographed by Kenny Ingram, the 75-minute musical stage adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s breakthrough novel brings the 1939 MGM film to life.

While your children will likely remember this musical extravaganza for the rest of their lives due to its rich theatricals, magical set, and witty costumes (not to mention the living and breathing Toto, Dorothy’s trusty pup), some members of the audience may not find it such an overwhelmingly positive experience. While the familiar and lovable narrative is spectacularly produced, and the cast is tremendously talented in vocals and dance, the lighting design is jarring and disorienting. With only a brief notice listed in tiny print at the bottom of the ninth page of the program as “flashing lights and haze may be used during this performance,” the audience is not given adequate warning for the trauma-inducing harshness of the flashing lights. Beyond that, the musical was sharp, funny, and brimming with multi-talented performers. Of course, the timeless musical numbers by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg and the overall whimsical 1940s retro tone were well received by the active audience.

Leryn Turlington’s performance as Dorothy Gale showcases the refined visuals and costume design. Dorothy is accompanied by her steadfast canine companion, Toto (played by two-year-old Derby) and is transported from Kansas to the dreamlike land of Oz, where her well-known journey continues. With notable performances by Dorothy’s newfound friends, the Scarecrow (Marya Grandy), the Tin Man (Joseph Anthony Byrd), the Cowardly Lion (Jose Antonio Garcia), and Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Emily Rohm), the antagonist, the Wicked Witch of the West, is marvelously captured by 12-time Jeff Award-winner Hollis Resnik.

The musical is attention grabbing from start to finish. Live musicians, accompanied by new orchestrations and arrangements by Neil Bartram, engage the audience and broaden the accessibility of the acts. Choreography by Kenny Ingram (multiple Jeff Award-winner) also plays a huge role in this. Coupled with the entire cast’s talent—particularly in the Jitterbug’s tap dance—Ingram gifts viewers with over 15 unique dance numbers. Beat the heat and entertain the kids with this summer musical. Be sure to stick around after the show to score a photo with a member of the cast!

Overall, if you have children, they will love you for taking them, but if not, or if you or anyone in your family has vertigo, photosensitive epilepsy, or another condition prone to light sensitivity, avoid this production.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s The Wizard of Oz is located on Navy Pier at 800 E. Grand Ave. The summer musical runs through August 25 on Wednesdays at 11am and Thursdays—Sundays at 11am and 2pm. Tickets start at $24 and can be found at Recommended for age 5 and up.

Guest author Katie Priest recently returned home to Chicago after receiving her BA in English from the University of Washington in Seattle. She is eager to pursue her long-time passions of reading and writing through the exploration and review of the arts.

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