Toto? Now I KNOW We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Posted: June 29, 2012 in Comedy, Culture, Entertainment, New York City, Nightlife, Performance, Theater, Theatre, Uncategorized

Adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, both legitimate versions for children’s theater/school plays and humorous adult parodies, have been a staple of American theater for decades. A notable example of same was A Yellow Brick Road Runs Through It at the Grove Street Playhouse in the mid-90s, starring Paul Lucas and the late Julie Kurnitz, directed by Joseph Weiss with musical direction by Joel Maisano. Enter the Haberdasher Theatre Company, an ambitious and merry band of Off-Off-Broadway entertainers, who have now brought their own adaptation of the play to the Drilling Company Theater, 236 West 78th Street, and the result is a nonstop chucklefest which simply must return to the New York stage after it closes on June 30th.

This version was initially adapted by Jeanette Jaquish for children’s theater before playwright/director Hollie Elizabeth Klem adapted it further for an adult audience, and the result couldn’t be more sensational. This time around, Auntie Em is a tough cookie from Queens who had to sell the house and move to a farm with orphaned niece Dorothy and her dog Toto. After the dog has been threatened to be destroyed by evil neighbor Almira Gully, the child decides to run away to New York City, pup in tow. It’s only after a chance meeting with slimy vacuum salesman Professor Osland that he convinces her to return home, at which point, of course, she and the house are subsequently swept up in the tornado that brings her to Oz. As expected, the house smashes the Wicked Witch of the East; what’s not expected is that instead of Munchkinland, Dorothy is informed by Glinda that she’s landed in NoHo Village. The story continues much in the same way as the beloved story, but with a few delectable twists; we learn of the deep sibling rivalry between the two wicked witches, Glinda carries a long pink shotgun rather than a magic wand, the band of Flying Monkeys are a ghetto crew, and the greeters at the gate of Oz Castle could be a hairdresser’s convention in the Castro. It all combines to an uproarious two hours that speaks volumes of the Haberdasher Theatre Company’s potential, especially under Klem’s directorial helm.

Performance-wise, there’s not a weak one to be had. An obvious measure of any parody of The Wizard of Oz are strong performances, and they are here in abundance. Tami Soligan is perfection as Dorothy, vulnerable and lost in wonder but possessing an inherent bravery. Jeff Foley as the Scarecrow is so adorable you just want to put him in your pocket and take him home, and Brian Ogston makes the wise choice of playing the Tinman with a bit of an edge even sharper than his axe. One wouldn’t think that casting a woman as the Lion would be prudent, but Nicole J. Lippey gives it her all and comes up swinging at every turn.  Matt Giroveanu absolutely sparkles in the dual roles of Professor Osland and the Wizard, and likewise Christen Madrazo as both Auntie Em and Glinda. And the four members of the ensemble each have a chance for more than one standout moment; they are Melody Cheng, Joseph Dale Harris, Jennifer Michaels (who is particularly delicious as both the mean Apple Tree and the Gatekeeper besides the Wicked Witch of the East) and Nick Panagakos. But the standout performance of the evening is the talented (and blindingly beautiful) Taylor Zito as both Almira Gully and the Wicked Witch of the West; this gal is electric in the role right up until her final exit after melting (with a hilarious action that has to be seen to be believed). Overall, this cast is simply breathtaking.

The technical side of this production is equally top-shelf. Although it would be nice if the show had a higher budget for sets, designer Link Salas has created a beautiful forest. Michael A. Megliola’s lighting is absolutely divine as is the prop design by Keri Taylor, and Adam Weir on sound design and stage management proves impeccable in both capacities. As for the costume and makeup design of Katie Grammes, the only appropriate adjective would be ‘outstanding.’ And Quincy Ellis provides admirable fight choreography.

In an ideal world, Haberdasher’s production of The Wizard of Oz would at the very least make a permanent move to a higher-profile house that would enable them to achieve the following they so deeply deserve. Alas, this is not to be. If perhaps there’s a wizard out there who can grant them that wish, the Off-Off-Broadway community would emerge as undoubtedly richer.

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Comments
  1. amanda says:

    Made me smile. Thank you for supporting independent theatre.

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