FORT WORTH — It is tornado season, so the timing is good for Casa Mañana Children’s Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz, which opened Friday. But whether this show is a mighty wind or just a messy storm is in the eye of the beholder.
There are a number of fine performances in this presentation of this classic musical, directed by Casa’s director of children’s theater and education Noah Puttterman. Joshua Kumler is lithe and limber as the Scarecrow. Ryan Page’s Tinman is oiled up and ready to go. And Greg Dulcie chews up his role as the courage-challenged Lion with royal glee.
The show, adapted from the musical film by John Kane, also features some outstanding costume designs by Tammy Spencer. The production design by Samuel Rushen is also exceptional at times, including some effective projections and evocative use of color in the lighting scheme (especially emerald greens).
Director Putterman has done an excellent job of preparing his younger actors for their parts as Munchkins and flying monkeys.
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But, the creative team can also be second guessed on several fine points in the overall staging.
The bangs of the hairdo worn by the young actress playing Dorothy (Brooke Verbois) are styled in such a way that they cast shadows over her face most of the time. The shadowing of features is a common trick when lighting villains (the audience tends not to like or trust characters when they can’t see their eyes), but it is not something you want to do to a sweet protagonist.
There are a couple of entrances using the aisles of the theater This is usually an effective device at this theatre. But in this case, those entrances are made in the dark and are difficult to see. They need to be illuminated.
In the storm sequence, there is little thunder and the lightning is represented by single flashes of strobe lights, which look more like flashbulbs than inclement weather.
The projections are well produced, but not well presented. The set design places an elevated walkway and double set of rails between the projection screen and the audience, so the view is always obstructed.
And don’t expect much of a performance from Toto. He’s a stuffed toy.
Finally, the show also lacks a “wow” factor. The monkeys don’t fly, and the song and dance numbers (performed to a recorded soundtrack) don’t blow you away any more than does the show’s tepid storm.
So there are some positives in this production, especially in the acting. But, on the whole, it does not measure up to the high standards this company has set in its presentations of musicals for young audiences.