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The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz speaks to Americans in ways that few other stories can approach. On the surface, it is the story of a young girl coming to grips with the importance of family in a world that cares little for individual happiness. On another level, the story reveals subtle psychological forces by which we sublimate the day's events. And deeper still, the story is author L. Frank Baum's allegory of the power struggle between Americans and the banks that are hell bent on enslaving them.

Sarah Grover as Dorothy
Sarah Grover as Dorothy
Photo: Glenn Ross Photography
When Baum's children's book was made into a movie in 1939, a variety of political and economic themes were sacrificed at the altar of ticket sales and the "party line," as determined by Tinsel Town censors (actually their puppeteers) and the latest technology (in this case Technicolor). For example, Dorothy's silver slippers in the book, a symbol of the "Free Silver" movement, became the famed ruby slippers, destroying the monetary allegory.

(Left to right) Bob Hoppe (Tin Man), Seth Caikowski (Cowardly Lion), Sarah Grover (Dorothy), and Scott Beyette (Scarecrow)
(L to R) Bob Hoppe (Tin Man),
Seth Caikowski (Cowardly Lion),
Sarah Grover (Dorothy),
and Scott Beyette (Scarecrow)
Photo: Glenn Ross Photography
Despite this evisceration of context, the movie and the musical remain great entertainment. Aunt Em (Alicia Dunfee) and Uncle Henry (Brian Norber) are hard working farmers who don't see the value in standing up for Dorothy (Sarah Grover) against the rich Miss Gulch (Barb Reeves), when she comes to take Toto away for certain perceived offenses. Even the hired hands—Hickory (Bob Hoppe), Hunk (Scott Beyette), and Zeke (Seth Caikowski) can't bring themselves to challenge the old sourpuss. As Bob Dylan said way back when, "Money doesn't talk, it swears." After the tornado-induced concussion/dream/alternate reality sequence, call it what you will, all these folks and their distressing behaviors are transferred into characters of Dorothy's lovely imagination.

Seth Caikowski as the Cowardly Lion
Seth Caikowski as the Cowardly Lion
Photo: Glenn Ross Photography
And thus begins Dorothy's famous journey to the Emerald City. Grover's lovely soprano packs a wallop. She soars through the signature song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," with flying colors, dances up a storm with her cohorts, and draws an intelligent portrait of a young girl wise beyond her years. Her three best buddies—Hickory, Hunk, and Zeke—lack the courage of their convictions, as symbolized by the Tin Man (industrial workers), the Scarecrow (farmers), and the Cowardly Lion (William Jennings Bryan). So, for Dorothy to find her way home, she must first help her friends evolve, all the while pointing out the absurdities of their reticence. Hoppe and Beyette draw portraits as fun and poignant as their cinematic counterparts, Jack Haley and Ray Bolger, but Caikowski, with the advantage of 74 years of hindsight and changing norms of introspection, manifests Bert Lahr and then some. Perhaps it is our refined sense of cat psychology that provides the springboard, but regardless, Caikowski's performance turns the Cowardly Lion into a cross between Hamlet, Oscar Wilde, and Sylvester the Cat.

Linda Morken's costumes, the aerial rigging by Flying by Troy and aerial choreography by Jessica Hindsley and Matthew D. Peters, the special video effects from Aaron "Ether" Schilling, Rachael Dugan's lighting, and excellent performances all around, including the young kids, make for a magical evening of munchkins, flying monkeys, Emerald City functionaries, wizardry, some wicked witches, a good witch, and plain old Kansas common sense.

Sarah Grover (Dorothy) and Wayne Kennedy (Professor Marvel/Wizard of Oz)
Sarah Grover (Dorothy)
and Wayne Kennedy (Professor Marvel/Wizard of Oz)
Photo: Glenn Ross Photography
On the adult side, we're always happy to see the kind-hearted and practical girl next door send the nasty witches (West: John D. Rockefeller; East: J.P. Morgan) to their just desserts. We also hope that the Wizard of Oz, i.e., ounces, (Wayne Kennedy) had gotten over his fixation on the yellow brick road and yellow helmets (gold) and silver slippers, and is ready to keep enough emerald pieces of paper in circulation to support the requisite employment and flow of goods and services. Kennedy and his alter egos are a delightful mix of big-hearted goodness and bumbling absentmindedness, as only he can do.

Boulder's Dinner Theatre's presentation of The Wizard of Oz runs through August 31st. For more information: 303-449-6000 or www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com.

Bob Bows

 

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