The Wizard of Oz | The Muny

There’s no place like home, and between the summer months of June and August home for St. Louis theatre lovers like myself is The Muny!


There’s no place like home, and between the summer months of June and August home for St. Louis theatre lovers like myself is The Muny!

As patrons return each year, nostalgia awaits them, but as they nestle into their seats for an evening of entertainment—their umbrellas tucked beneath their chairs just in case—they’re about to witness something new. And that’s the wonderful thing about theatre: Something that’s technically old, like The Muny’s 98th season show opener The Wizard of Oz is granted the opportunity to be new again every time a new team takes a stab at it ushering it back onto the stage.

So, is The Muny’s 2016 trip to Oz worth taking? Follow the yellow brick road! (For those of you who are strangers to this story that response translates as a resounding yes!)

Before I say a word more about what to expect on your journey, here’s a quick bit of background to give you an idea of what you’ll be getting into!

Dorothy Gale’s little terrier Toto has made an enemy. Her name is Miss Gultch, and she wants the sweet, small dog out of her county. But as her best and only friend, Dorothy can’t let that happen, so she and her pup run away from home. Unfortunately, this act of rebellion wasn’t well-planned on Dorothy’s part because a twister is about to tear through the area.

She’s motivated by a man on the road, Professor Marvel (PJ Benjamin), to return back to her farm where her Aunt Em (Lynn Humphrey) and Uncle Henry (Rich Pisarkiewicz) must be worried sick about her—not that the professor needed to look into his crystal ball to “predict” that. But by the time she makes it back, everyone has already sought shelter, including farm hands Hickory (Nicholas Rodriguez), Hunk (Kevin Cahoon), and Zeke (Stephen Wallem). A piece of debris whacks Dorothy on her head, and next thing she knows, she’s in her house, which is inside of the twister. It eventually crash lands into a world that’s unlike anything she’s ever seen before, and the only thing she knows for sure is that she’s not in Kansas anymore.

Of course, you probably already knew all of that, didn’t you?

Because The Wizard of Oz is such an imaginative tale, there are many scenes a fan of the 1939 film will wonder how in the world The Muny could translate to the stage. For example, that twister seen I just mentioned. But this is what I’ve learned about The Muny: The greater the production challenge, the more marvelous the final execution. The twister scene was, in a word, perfect.

The team pulled out all the stops in terms of special effects—Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West never fails to startle the audience with her smoke bomb entrances and habit of throwing flame. (Although clearly not a special effect, I must mention Peggy Roeder’s shiver-inducing witch cackle was completely on point). The show’s high production value is most evident in Robert Mark Morgan’s scenic design and Leon Dobkowski’s costumes.

There is hardly an element of this spectacular production that doesn’t deserve to be mentioned. I could gush about it all bit by bit, but in close I’ll extend three final praises.

  1. The ensemble of Munchkinlanders, whom Dorothy meets upon landing in Oz, includes three actors in wheelchairs. This inclusivity made my heart beam.
  2. The cast, down to its tiniest member Toto, who in real life goes by Dusty, portrays the story’s classic characters well. The show’s leading lady, Danielle Bowen, who took on the role of Dorothy is especially deserving of praise. Those ruby slippers are big shoes to fill, and she did it with such energy and grace! What I loved most about her portrayal is how easy it was to believe that she was playing a young girl, not yet even a teenager, as author L. Frank Baum wrote the character.
  3. The show features everyone’s favorite songs from the 1939 film, with one wonderful addition—“The Jitter Bug!” Cut from the original film, the opportunity to see the gang perform this infectious number on their way to the witch’s castle is a real treat. (By the way, Judy Garland’s version of the tune is still out there and well worth a listen!)

Last but not least, I’ll say this: Pay close attention to Dorothy in the very last seconds of the show; there’s a fun detail thrown in that’s easy to miss—a neat nod to the journey that her Kansas family writes off as merely a dream.

Now, you must be “off to see the Wizard;” with five shows left there isn’t a moment to spare! | Megan Washausen

The Wizard of Oz runs through June 22. For ticket information, visit Next up will be 42nd Street, with a run from June 24-30!

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