“The Wizard of Oz”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
March 22, 1999

“I’ll get you my pretty.”

That line from the film “The Wizard of Oz” has become an indelible part of film history. So you wouldn’t think that audiences would get such a kick out of hearing it in a musical based on the movie.

But when “The Wizard of Oz” opened Friday night at the Rosemont Theatre, the audience delighted in the familiar.

Somewhere over the rainbow lies a land called Oz. Most of us already have been transported there, thanks to television reruns. But it still is a joy to visit  Emerald City.

Deftly directed by Robert Johanson, who shows a keen eye for detail, the immaculately staged, 90-minute musical is a whirlwind of eye candy. With the collaboration of set designer Michael Anania, Johanson brings the scenes to life. One minute you see the cantankerous neighbor/witch flying high above the stage on her bicycle. The next, a farmhouse is furiously swirling through the epicenter of a tornado. All this sets the stage for the trip to Oz,  where the kaleidoscope of colors are as bright as a rainbow and the onstage pyrotechnics just add to the fun.

Based on Chicagoan L. Frank Baum’s classic story – which was made  into the 1939 film – “The Wizard of Oz” tells the tale of Dorothy and her loyal posse (the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion and Toto, too) as they travel through Oz to meet the great wizard (Mickey Rooney), whom, they are told, can grant their most desired wishes.

What a sweet story this is, too. The characters can ask for anything and yet they request the most basic things: a brain, a heart, courage and the means to go back home.

But because the beloved film story is 60 years old, there are some archaic messages ingrained in the plot that hopefully don’t sink in with all the youngsters oohing and ahhing in their parents’ laps. For instance, when Dorothy is dumbstruck that the angelic Glinda (who floats through the air in a bubble rather than on a broomstick) is a  witch, she is told – amid much Munchkin giggling – that “only bad witches are ugly.”

Jessica Grove, the 17-year-old high school student who originated the role of Dorothy two years ago in the New York production, is a fresh-faced beauty who is blessed with a crystalline voice. While she easily handles numbers such as “Over the Rainbow,” it’s her acting skill that really connects with the audience. Of course it doesn’t hurt any that she bears a strong physical resemblance to Judy Garland.

Rooney is a crowd pleaser playing the crusty old wizard who helps Dorothy and her pals realize they already had everything they wished for.

But the scenes are stolen by the three little dogs that play Toto.  Well trained, if not a little headstrong, their occasional meanderings into the wrong sections of the stage just add to the fun.

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