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Main | Theatre Review - Theatre Three's 'Second Stage' »
Tuesday
May212019

Theatre Review - 'The Wizard of Oz'

‘The Wizard of Oz’ - Produced by Theatre Three, Port Jefferson - reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur 

When iconic composer Harold Arlen teamed up with lyricist ‘Yip’ Harburg to create the songs for‘The Wizard of Oz,’ the pair unwittingly contributed to what has become one of the most enduring stories in the show business trivia canon. 
 
In 1932 Harburg had provided the lovely lyrics for, among other classic numbers, ‘April In Paris.’Accordingly, when in the early forties a French newspaper reporter was on assignment interviewing theater celebrities in this country, the journalist sought out the famed lyricist and asked him what he assumed was a simple question: “What is your favorite memory of your time in Paris?” 
 
To the interviewer’s complete surprise, Harburg answered that he had never been to Paris. “What?” The reporter was absolutely stunned. “You created one of the most memorable songs ever written about ‘The City of Lights’ … you captured the very essence of Paris … and you say you were never there? Impossible!”
 
With characteristic aplomb ‘Yip’ Harburg merely shrugged and said, “Well, I’ve never been ‘Over the Rainbow,’ either.”
 
Those of us who had yet to witness a live performance of the stage production, ‘The Wizard of Oz,’adapted from one of the greatest motion pictures ever filmed … in any genre … made up for lost time when we attended the show’s Long Island debut at Theatre Three this past Saturday. And, what an entertaining experience it was!
 
Not only were we treated to a production that perfectly illustrated the sure-footed genius of director Jeffrey Sanzel, and the breathtaking scenic design of Randall Parsons, but we saw a musical that within fifteen minutes bowed in with a surprising and incredibly acrobatic dance routine. Furthermore, the showstopper was served up by a dozen sub-teen ‘Munchkins,’ some of whom were making their stage debuts … though you’d never guess it. Can you say impressive? The prediction here is that all of these kids are going places should they decide to stick with the theater. And they’ll owe a lot to their mentor, Jean P. Sorbera, who has choreographed more than sixty productions.
 
The starring roles in this most memorable of all children’s stories (based on the novella by L. Frank Baum) are almost too numerous to expect in one theatrical adaptation. Indeed, virtually all of the play’s headliners, including Dorothy’s indispensable dog, Toto, act, sing, and dance their way (well maybe not Toto) into our hearts without missing a beat. And it is essential that they do so consistently, because much of the musical’s magic stems from the universality of its message … that differing appearances and human frailties notwithstanding, nothing trumps love and friendship. And of course, “There’s no place like home.”
 
It would be foolish to grade the actors in this production according to their perceived talent … all are equally in command of their lines and inflections … all demonstrate brilliant stage presence … and (wonder of wonders) all sing and dance beautifully, while playing off one another at the same appropriate pace. Two or three key actors might be expected to achieve that kind of synchronization, but for thirty to attain it, is a significant rarity.
 
That said, there is one performance which (possibly because of the nature and complexity of the character portrayed) deserves to be labeled exceptional. It is that of ‘The Wicked Witch of the West’ as interpreted by the magnificent Theatre Three actress, Linda May. Even an audience composed largely of six, seven, and eight-year-olds was compelled to rise up and cheer Ms. May’s enactment of protagonist Dorothy’s nemesis during the curtain call.
 
If there was a sprinkling of boos, they undoubtedly represented a testimonial to the convincing nature of Linda May’s presentation, and the entire cast surely recognized the catcalls as tribute … not brickbat.
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 Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newest thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced to a standing room crowd at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

 

Reader Comments (3)

At the 2014 Oscars, the Academy celebrated the 75th anniversary of the release of the "Wizard of Oz" by having 'Pink' sing "Over the Rainbow."
What few people realized, while listening to that unforgettable song, is that the music is deeply embedded in the Jewish experience.
It is no accident that the most popular Christmas songs of all time were written by Jews. For example, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was created by Johnny Marks and "White Christmas" was penned by a cantor's son, Irving Berlin. But perhaps the most poignant song emerging out of the mass exodus from Europe was "Over the Rainbow". The lyrics, as you point out, were written by Yip Harburg, youngest of four children born to Jewish immigrants. His actual name was Isidore Hochberg and he grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home in New York. The music was composed by Harold Arlen, a cantor's son. His true name was Hyman Arluck and his parents were from Lithuania.
Together, Hochberg and Arluck wrote "Over the Rainbow," voted the 20th century's number one song by the Recording Industry Association of America, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
In writing the iconic piece, the two men reached deep into their immigrant Jewish consciousness - framed by the pogroms of the past, and the Holocaust about to happen - and wrote an unforgettable melody set to near-prophetic lyrics.
Read in their Jewish context, suddenly the words are no longer about Wizards and Oz, but about Jewish survival.

Werner Reich, Commack
Wed, May 22, 2019 | Registered Commenter.
Frankly, I have never made that connection.
It is significant, though, that the observation is made by arguably America's most prominent expert on The Holocaust in general.
Not only did Commack resident Werner Reich personally survive that dreadful time in world history, he has become our country's foremost lecturer on all aspects of The Holocaust.
Reich is the prize-winning author of 'The Death Camp Magicians,' among other autobiographical writings.

- Jeb Ladouceur
Wed, May 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJeb Ladouceur
Thank you for another theater review that reads like great literature. Theater Three puts on some of the best theatre on Long Island. Mr. Reich, your commentary was greatly appreciated. May we all live long enough to find a place where there isn’t any trouble....
Fri, May 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Sansone-Braff

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