It's a challenge to decide where to take your kids this holiday season... New York has so much to offer but you can never go wrong when the Wizard is in town. This version of the classic movie The Wizard of Oz is being presented by the Harlem Repertory Theatre (Keith Lee Grant, Artistic Director and choreographer) and the Yip Harburg Foundation (Ernie Harburg, President; Deena Harburg, Artistic Producer and Dramaturg).
The show plays until December 13, giving kids and their parents plenty of time to re watch the movie so they know the characters really well. As written for the screen by Yip Harburg from a "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by Frank L. Baum, with a brilliant score lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Harold Arlen, it is truly a story for the adult in the child and the child in the adult.
Tao Laviera Theatre Harlem Prep Elementary has a wonderful stage environment. Actors can run up and down the aisles and witches and wizards appear high up on the balustrade. The staging (Director, Keith Lee Grant) is inventive and uses the space admirably, permitting actors to interact more playfully with playing with their audience.
Dorothy (Taylor-Rey Rivera) has a little Mariah Carey in her voice and looks adorable in her beautifully designed (Dan Fergu Tamulonis, costumer) Dorothy plaid dress. She is asked to do a few versions of the signature the Tony Award winning song Over The Rainbow, and delivers the goods, especially on the belt. Her three main squeezes, The Scarecrow (Derrick Montalvado), the Lion (Dexter Thomas -Payne) and the Tin Man (Ben Harburg) are spirited and each bring their own unique take on these iconic characters. The Scarecrow is perfectly goofy and moves like his straw body really itches. The Lion is too warm to be really scary and the audience all roots for his courage award. And there is something about the Tin Man that I couldn't take my eyes off of. His diffident sweetness really speaks to a man locked in metal, always on the brink of rusting when he feels something. It's a good lesson to learn that tears won't kill you and having a heart is the most important thing.
There are some lovely dance sequences, with touches of gymnastics and a real wit behind the direction; playing on two levels, reminding us that this is as much a psychological adventure as it is a fairy tale.
The projected video (Brian Blanco, video maker) is effective creating strong cinematic images. When the twister arrives, furniture and bodies spin like Martha Graham in front of the 'storm' and later on the great Oz (A.J.Acevdeo) looms hauntingly on the screen.
There is a jazzy spin to the score, owing to musical directions by Deena Harburg of the Yip Harburg Foundation. The players are all top-notch musicians (Martha Kato, piano; Yoshi Waki, bass; and Dan Aran, percussion), and give the sense of a full orchestra.
One can't help but feel good at this OZ production. The humbug Wizard who tries to change in the end, doesn't succeed as he leaves Dorothy to still find her way home without him. But maybe that's the ultimate teaching of this wonderful story... it's up to all of us to rally inner strength to find our truth. The Wizard of Oz is loaded with it.