Dorothy and crew from The Puppet Co.'s "The Wizard of Oz"
It might seem kind of odd to see the same story performed on stage twice in one weekend. But with two productions of “The Wizard of Oz” opening simultaneously and a family vacation looming, it was my only chance to catch both to post timely reviews.
Turns out, it couldn’t have worked out better. The hot weekend was a great time to be in the cool AC of the theatres. And the productions, a play by Encore Stage’s Act III division and The Puppet Co.’s handmade version, were vastly different, which actually added a neat twist to the theatre experience for both Owen, my trusty theatre review partner, and me.
Viewing two versions of the tale so close together was a rare opportunity to compare the unique interpretations and performances of the story. (Sasha tried to join us for the puppet show, but at two and a half, she was more focused on having a snack — a no-no in the theater — than on the stage, so my husband took her to the Glen Echo playground instead.)
First up was Encore Stage’s performance on Saturday afternoon. I won’t beat around the bush: This play was fantastic! Performed mostly by young actors, some possibly as young as five-year-old Owen, the production showcased some truly wonderful talent. The acting, singing, and dancing of the cast was remarkably impressive, commanding the attention of the audience for the entire show.
On the way there, I’d given Owen some background on the story just in case it was hard to follow on stage. It only took minutes into the show to realize that wasn’t necessary, as Encore Stage lived up to its “Theatre by kids, for kids of all ages” motto. The show catered to the audience of both children and adults with fun musical numbers (Dorothy’s welcome to Emerald City was a brilliant start), a creative set, and fun (and funny) “theatre magic” to pull off some of the special effects (the melting witch was a riot). And I have to give a virtual standing ovation to the Cowardly Lion, who gave an outstanding performance.
The entire production is about two hours long, with two approximately 50-minute acts and a 20-minute intermission in between. The show only runs for one more weekend, July 29-31, with performances Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm. Kids ages four and up would probably enjoy it most. Tickets are $15/adult, $10/children and can be purchased online.
Preparing for The Puppet Co.’s show on Sunday was a little different than the day before. Now a veteran viewer of “The Wizard of Oz,” Owen was excited to bring his expert perspective to the show. We’ve seen many productions at the Glen Echo theatre, and I always appreciate their quirky way of presenting classic stories (though I guess any show that includes characters who are part puppet-part person can’t be anything but). This time they do it with live actors “telling a story within a story” using an array of mediums–table top puppets, masks, marionettes, and moving-mouth puppets. And those puppet-human hybrids make appearances, too, with terrifically amusing renditions of the much adored munchkins.
While I found the production easy to follow, Owen needed a quick explanation about the “story within a story.” In this version, Dorothy and Toto visit the Kansas State Fair, but Dorothy gets lost amidst the crowd. While her parents are being located, a few festival workers care for her and tell a fascinating story about a girl, a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion venturing together to see the wizard — the story of The Wizard of Oz. Once Owen understood the roles of the narrators, he was able to follow along fine, and was thoroughly engaged in the singing, puppet dancing, and imaginatively presented cast of characters. After the show when I asked him if he liked it, I got a very enthusiastic, “Yes!” And when I asked what he like best, he told me, “When the lion jumped across the stage!” Sounds like the lion stole the show once again.
“The Wizard of Oz” will be at The Puppet Co. through September 4, with showtimes on Thursdays and Fridays at 10am & 11:30am and Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30am & 1pm. It’s recommended for kids of Kindergarten age and up, and running time is 55 minutes. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online.