SMITHFIELD — As one of the most beloved, well-known musicals of all time, it is often a challenge for productions of The Wizard of Oz to stay relevant and fresh. Four Seasons Theatre Company’s charming production of The Wizard of Oz, directed by Kody Rash and Melinda Richards met the challenge well. L. Frank Baum’s classic novel, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg, comes to life on the stage in an exciting and captivating way.
Although the lead role of Dorothy Gale is often played by a young-looking adult in the stage adaptation, Rash and Richards made the decision to cast an age-appropriate Dorothy, who more accurately represents the age of the character in the novel. At 13 years old, Haven Tietjen leads the cast as Dorothy with impressive vocals for her young age, and charming acting. She is authentic, sincere and believable as the young heroine of the story.
Another refreshing change in this production was the decision to have the role of Toto played by a puppet, animated by puppeteer Clifton Richards. This added a touch of humor throughout the story and eliminated the risks and uncertainty of working with a live dog as Toto. (I once saw a production of The Wizard of Oz where the dog playing Toto refused to cooperate and actually ran offstage and into the audience.)
The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion are played by Kaito Davis, Dallin Clark, and Stanton Allen, respectively. All three are stellar performers. It was clear that each one took inspiration from the original film for their characters, but also added their own creative interpretations to make their character unique. Particularly impressive were Clark’s tap dancing in the character’s first scene and Allen’s loveable portrayal of the Cowardly Lion. Due to a last-minute change in casting, Davis impressively learned the role of the Scarecrow in about two weeks prior to the opening of the show. These three talented performers were the heart and soul of this show.
Playing the role of Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch, Afton Whitney immediately steals the show and commands the stage in every scene she is in. This production uses a fly system to great effect, and Whitney looks right at home in the air as she effortlessly darts around on her broomstick each time she enters and leaves the stage. Her performance as the Wicked Witch is perfectly menacing and humorous, without being too campy or over-the-top, as we often see with villainous characters.
The decision to use a fly system for this production was a wise one, adding an element of magic as the performers frequently fly through the air. Dorothy is lifted from the ground and spins through the air during the tornado scene, and Glinda and the Wicked Witch often enter and exit while airborne. This was a charming addition to the production that I absolutely loved.
Upon first entering the theatre, the first thing that is immediately noticeable is the incredible set design by Lineset Design and Fabrication. The set is a detailed, elaborate construction of a large wooden barn that transports the audience right to the heart of Kansas. Although the set design was elaborate and beautiful, I sometimes wondered if it was impractical, as it seemed that the set was unable to be changed at all throughout the entire production, perhaps due to the sheer size and complexity. The large wooden barn remained firmly in place and visible in the background during the entire show. When Dorothy is first transported to Oz, there was little change of set to indicate the new land and differentiate between the barn in Kansas versus the magical land of Oz. There were a few flowers added to the sides and dropped from the ceiling, but this was our only indication that of a new setting. This same issue was noticeable again in the forest scenes, where the only indication of a forest were a few jagged pieces of wood dangling from the ceiling.
The directors also made the decision to cast the munchkins of Oz as an ensemble of adults, which resulted in strong vocals and dancing from the ensemble. However, the adult munchkins also towered over young Tietjen as Dorothy, which tainted the illusion that they were munchkins. The ensemble is otherwise very strong and added much depth, color, and humor to the show. I particularly loved the three singing crows in the Scarecrow’s scene, who were hilarious and completely stole the scene.
Choreographers Kelly Bateman, Melisa Jensen and Katie Packard created entertaining and eye-catching choreography throughout the entire show, with my favorite dancing occurring during the Jitterbug scene. This scene can sometimes bog down the flow and pace of the show, but in this case, the opposite was true. At Four Seasons, the jitterbug scene was a refreshing jolt of energy that left me feeling excited to see the rest of the second act.
One of the elements of this production that shone the most brightly was the beautiful costume design by Kody Rash and his large team of costume creators. The attention to detail in these gorgeous costumes was immaculate, right down to Glinda’s sparkly boots that perfectly matched her glittering dress that looked like it came straight out of a fairytale. There was also the large, menacing pointy shoulders of the Wicked Witch’s jacket that complemented her character perfectly. The costumes of the munchkins were bright, colorful, and rich with different patterns and designs which made the land of Oz a feast for the eyes.
Four Seasons Theatre’s magical version of The Wizard of Oz is perfect for fans of the beloved story, as well as being entertaining enough for young children who may otherwise have a difficult time sitting through full-length live theatre performances. This production does exactly what it is intended to do: it left me feeling warm and fuzzy, and reminded me that there is truly no place like home.