REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz (Emerald City Theatre)

     
     

Learning to love the things you’ve had all along

     
     

Wizard of Oz - Emerald City Theatre

   
Emerald City Theatre presents
   
The Wizard of Oz
   
Written by L. Frank Baum, Adapted by John Kane
Music/Lyrics by
Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Directed by
Ernie Nolan
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
Through Jan 2  |  tickets: $13-$16  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

I love children’s theater because the audience’s limited attention span forces wild, fearless performances from the actors as they try to hold the concentration of both children and parents. Emerald City Theatre is one of the city’s premier children’s theater companies, and their holiday production of The Wizard of Oz incorporates audience interaction and puppetry to create a visually exciting production that understands the actor/child dynamic. The actors give unbridled performances that keep the momentum moving briskly, and while they might not be the strongest in term of technique, they make up for it by having so much fun in their characters.

Molly Tower as Glinda the Good Witch - Emerald City TheatreEmerald City’s production High School Musical­-izes Arlen and Harburg’s score with a rhythm section and guitars, but the songs never lose their classic appeal. Karle’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is a rousing number that captures Dorothy’s desire to find a world outside the dreariness of the Kansas countryside, and the actress’s effortless belt gets the show off to a great start. In Oz, Dorothy is greeted by Glinda’s (a hilariously irreverent Molly Tower) angelic soprano, accompanied by the denizens of Munchkinland.

As she makes her way to the Emerald City, Dorothy encounters new faces, including Scarecrow (Bret Beaudry), who serves as a major source of physical comedy throughout the show. Tinman (James Nedrud) is cleverly portrayed as an Elvis-like crooner and carries a guitar for an axe, appropriate for the Million Dollar Quartet housing Apollo Theater, and Nedrud has a smooth vocal quality that is perfect for the character. The only one of Dorothy’s new friends that struggles is Lion (Shea Coffman), and the difficulty of the character’s music isn’t helped by the ornaments Coffman adds to almost every sustained note.

Using puppets for the munchkins is hilarious and efficient, and the low-budget shortcuts that Emerald City takes contribute to much of the show’s charm. Kevin Beltz’s economical set unfolds Dorothy’s house to reveal walls with turning panels to signify location, all located in the walls of Dorothy’s home that unfolds during the storm. It’s a great effect that also saves a lot of money on scenery. Despite not being the most technically astounding or polished production, the show’s simplicity and dedicated ensemble make Dorothy’s journey through Oz easy for kids to enjoy while still entertaining for adults.

If I only had a heart by Emerald City Theatre Company Find Her! - The Wicked Witch by Emerald City Theatre Company
If I only had a brain! by Emerald City Theatre Company The Wicked Witch of the West by Emerald City Theatre Company When I am king of the forest by Emerald City Theatre Company

It is surprising how well Baum’s classic story works in a holiday setting, as the storm that whisks Dorothy away, in this production, occurs just before Christmas. Maybe it’s the combination of red and green that comes from ruby slippers – adorably reimagined as glistening ankle-boots – and the Emerald City. More likely, the connection comes from how well Baum taps into the holiday spirit of giving thanks, and taking pleasure in the company of people that will always be there for you. The important part of the holidays isn’t the presents you get, but learning to love the things you’ve had all along.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Off to see the Wizard

        
        

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Emerald City Theatre announces 2010-11 season

Emerald City 15th Anniversary Logo

Emerald City marks 15th Anniversary

with exciting new season

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

 

Emerald City Theatre Artistic and Executive Director Karen Cardarelli has announced the company’s 2010-2011 season lineup of family theater, which marks the organization’s 15th anniversary season and includes two beloved classic productions and two Chicago premieres.

The season commences with the Midwest premiere of Pinkalicious, direct from a sold out run Off Broadway

Emerald City celebrates the holiday season with a new take on an old favorite-a rocked out version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.

2011 begins with a bang as Emerald City Theatre presents the world premiere of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, based on the Caldecott Award-winning books by Mo Willems. This brand new adaptation by Associate Artistic Director Ernie Nolan marks the company’s 28th world premiere production and continues the work of The PlayGround, formed in 2008 and dedicated to the development of world-class scripts for early learners.  Since its inception, Emerald City original scripts have been produced at 17 theatre companies nationwide. Most recently, Co-Founder and Artistic Associate Alyn Cardarelli‘s hit How I Became a Pirate was produced at Imagination Stage in Washington D.C, Dallas Children’s Theatre, and Stages Theatre in Minneapolis.

The 2011 Season ends on a delicious note with Roald Dahl’s beloved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Ernie Nolan. 


 

September 18 – December 31, 2010

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Pinkalicious

Book: Elizabeth Kann & Victoria Kann
Music/Lyrics: John Gregor
Lyrics: Elizabeth Kann & Victoria Kann

Based on the book "Pinkalicious" by Victoria & Elizabeth Kann
Directed by Ernie Nolan

The season commences with the Midwest premiere of Pinkalicious, direct from a sold out run Off Broadway.

When Pinkalicious Pinkerton eats one too many pink cupcakes, she catches a serious case of Pinkititis and turns pink from head to toe!  To cure her condition, Pinkalicious’ organic-eating parents and broccoli-loving little brother must teach her the importance of a balanced diet. A Midwest premier, directed by Associate Artistic Director Ernie Nolan, this heartwarming musical’s Gateway Theme of healthy eating is sure to strike a chord among parents and picky eaters alike. Families are invited to hear the original story, make pink crafts and enjoy pink treats at Pinkalicious’ Cupcake Tea Parties, special events beginning in late September.     Recommended for ages 3+.


November 18, 2010 – January 2, 2011

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryThe Wizard of Oz

 

By L. Frank Baum
Music/Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Adapted for the Royal Shakespeare Company by by John Kane
Directed/Choreographed by Ernie Nolan.

When Dorothy Gale and her beloved dog Toto are swept away to a land somewhere over the rainbow, they discover the true meaning of home. In this rocked out version of the classic story, you’ll hear favorites like "If I Only Had a Brain" and "Follow the Yellow Brick Road." Bring your munchkins to Oz this holiday season for one of the most memorable stories ever created Recommended for ages 3+

 


 

January 15, 2011 – April 10, 2011

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

World Premiere!

From the Books by Mo Willems
Adapted by Ernie Nolan
Directed by Jacqueline Stone

Based on Mo Willems’ Caldecott-winning favorite, this highly interactive play puts the audience in the driver’s seat as everybody’s favorite pigeon asks to drive the bus, eat a hot dog, have a puppy, and stay up late.  It’s up to you to decide what he can do.  You’ve never met a pigeon like this before!  Recommended for ages 3+

 

 


 

February 12, 2011 – May 8, 2011

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

By Richard R. George
From the fantasy by Roald Dahl
Directed by Ernie Nolan

Mysterious Willy Wonka is opening the gates to his coveted and curious chocolate factory- and only five children will be let inside! When good-hearted dreamer Charlie Bucket unwraps his lucky golden ticket, he and his grandfather are whisked away into a world of pure imagination. A tasty treat for the entire family!  Recommended for ages 3+

 

 

 


About the PlayGround

The PlayGround is Emerald City’s formal new works process, created in 2008 and lead by Associate Artistic Director Ernie Nolan. The PlayGround manages the selection of concepts for adaptation, organizes the internal creative input and produces table and staged readings. Additionally, it researches the needs of young audiences and how those needs can be supported through theater.

"Emerald City Theatre has become one of Chicago’s largest Gateways to the Arts for young children," says Associate Artistic Director Ernie Nolan. "Understanding the difference between how a 4-year old learns from a play and how a 10-year old learns takes a lot of time and research. The PlayGround frames the work we have been doing to combine the understanding of our audience with the work our artists are creating."

       
         

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REVIEW: Sweet and Hot (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

Sweet, Hot, and Effective

 

sweet-and-hot-01

    
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents
  
Sweet and Hot: Songs of Harold Arlen
   
Adapted by Julianne Boyd
Directed by
Fred Anzevino
at
No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood (map)
through August 8th  | 
tickets: $25- $45  | more info 

reviewed by Barry Eitel

Director Fred Anzevino and his Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre work best when they keep things simple. Evita and Chess succeeded so well because they masterfully pared down these sprawling musicals to fit in their beloved No Exit Café. Sweet and Hot is driven by a much more minimal concept—the revue involves a sextet of crooners belting out the greatest hits collection of songsmith Harold Arlen. While  Anzevino’s production lacks depth, the tunes are beautifully sung and concisely delivered. Even in a room full of theatre critics on a hot June evening, the romance in the candlelit Rogers Park storefront was palpable.

sweet-and-hot-03Sweet and Hot is Theo Ubique’s most recent addition to a long line of revues focusing on a single composer (past honorees include Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel). Instead of piecing together his own collage of songs, Anzevino relies on a prefabricated set-list gathered by Julianne Boyd. It sounds like an opened time capsule revealing some of the best compositions of the first half of the 20th Century. The talented cast pipes out numbers like “Blues in the Night” and “I’ve Got the World on a String” with a refreshing amount of energy, blowing off any dust these famous melodies have gathered.

To ratchet up the intimacy, Anzevino tosses out most of the band, saving only the piano. Musical director Steve Carson rearranges the pieces to accommodate. The result is delightfully straightforward, imparting the cozy, informal feeling of a couple of friends singing around an upright.

Decked in ‘40s attire, the cast of six all have distinguishable takes on their pieces. The highlight here is Bethany Thomas, who crams the tiny space with passion and bravado during the slow-burning “Stormy Weather” and “The Man That Got Away.” She is joined by the glamorously blonde Stephanie Herman and the adorable Sarah Hayes. The Gentleman Trio comprises of (usually) gloomy Kristofer Simmons, dashing Eric Martin, and the boyish Eric Lindahl. One of the most interesting aspects of the production is that the over-the-top optimistic numbers (“Happy As the Day is Long,” “Get Happy”) all have a tinge of delusion here, giving them a heftier dramatic weight. It isn’t completely nailed down, but it gives them a little subtext. However, the portrayals overall are pretty shallow and mostly rely on jazz club-ish charisma and emotional stakes. There isn’t really any through-line or character in the piece; the cast sort of musters up whatever mood the songs require. A little more dramatic cohesion would make the show feel less like a recital and more like poignant, vibrant theatre.

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Along with lyricists such as E.Y. Harburg, Johnny Mercer, and Ira Gershwin, Arlen (best known for penning the melodies of “The Wizard of Oz”) created a songbook with pieces ranging from the bizarrely comic to the downright tragic. The cast can reach into both reservoirs. For example, Simmons’ rendition of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” (a Groucho Marx stand-by) is droll and goofy, while his “One For My Baby (And One More for the Road)” is heartrending. Carson even gets his own moment to shine with the charming “This Time the Dream’s On Me.”

Anzevino’s staging occasionally comes off as having actors move just to have actors move, and “Over the Rainbow,” which receives a mention on the poster, could have received a lot more attention. Fortunately, David Heimann’s choreography always infuses energy into the songs. I’m not usually a fan of musical revues. Most of the time, they seem to me like live compilation albums meant to score a few more dollars from deceased songwriters. But with Theo Ubique’s focus on intimacy and simply presenting songs the whole team obviously loves, they come up with a show that has a tangible effect on the audience. This Sweet and Hot is a living experience.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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