By Barry Reszel
Ever since seeing her as demur Darlene in Theo Ubique’s Honky Tonk Angels nearly three years ago, (and in fairness, as Kim McAfee in Drury Lane’s Bye Bye Birdie before that), it felt almost predestined that Florida transplant Leryn Turlington would achieve success on Chicagoland stages.
Parts in Mercury’s Hair, Kokandy’s Grand Hotel and Paramount’s Legally Blonde followed. And this summer, Turlington’s road to musical theatre achievement is a yellow-bricked one, as she takes on the lead role of Dorothy Gale in Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s resplendent production of The Wizard of Oz. She’s perfect for the part, dulcetly crooning its signature “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in a rendition worthy of any cabaret in any major city around the world.
Meticulously true to the well-known 1939 movie of the same name in which Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West scared the bejesus out of each subsequent generation of youngsters, this is not-to-be-missed summertime musical theatre. Yes, it’s presented in a 75-minute one act, and that’s to audiences’ benefit. This isn’t merely theatre for the young; it’s an iconic movie musical adapted for the stage that’s so much better in this timeframe because the story and accompanying songbook clip along at a perfect, fast pace.
That’s credit to terrific Director Brian Hill, who takes L. Frank Baum’s masterpiece, adds some delicious choreography by Kenny Ingram, and brilliantly shares the parable teaching audiences that friends are there for them even at times we might not know it and that when all is said and done, there really is no place like home. (A full plot summary and production history of the unabridged 2011 onstage version may be read here.)
Strikingly wonderful is the attention given to the black and white scenes in Kansas juxtaposed with the Oz scenes in living color, just like the film. Credit that to Mike Tutaj’s terrific moving projections and Lee Fiskness’ wonderful lighting complementing Scott Davis’ spot-on, flexible scenic design. Fabulous costuming by the incomparable Theresa Ham and wig/makeup work by Richard Jarvie set the stage for a chorus of great voices, musically directed by Kory Danielson. Assistant Musical Director Kevin Reeks conducts a backstage quartet that brings the sound of a full orchestra performing the well-known Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen songs like “Over the Rainbow,” “Munchkinland,” “Yellow Brick Road,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “Ding Dong! the Witch is Dead” and many more.
Onstage, Emily Rohm and Jared D.M. Grant take on the roles of earnest Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. Rohm does double duty as glittering good witch Glinda, who has just enough attitude to put this characterization right between the ethereal Glinda of the film and Wicked‘s lovingly conniving Galinda. Chicagoland icon Hollis Resnik does her best Margaret Hamilton as Almira Gulch in Kansas and the dreaded Wicked Witch of the West in Oz. There’s no hint of a sympathetic Elphaba here.
Marya Grandy’s kindly, thoughtful Scarecrow, Joseph Anthony Byrd’s warm-hearted Tin Man and Jose Antonio Garcia’s courageous Cowardly Lion are portrayed with tenderness. The Wonderful Wizard is played sweetly by William Dick. Each of these actors takes on dual roles, singing and dancing with their spirited ensemble of farmhands and Munchkins: Kayla Boye, Timothy P. Foszcz, Jarod D.M. Grant, Haley Gustafson, Aalon Smith, Lauren Smith, Anthony Sullivan Jr. and Kaleb Van Rijswijck.
And then there’s Dorothy and her unbelievably well-trained Toto (played by Derby) on whom all eyes fall. Because, you know, she’s the one wearing the ruby slippers. Appropriately wide-eyed, resolute on her journey and ready to grasp gratitude if only she can go home, Turlington is truly a joy to watch in this role written for her.
Chicagoland audiences just hope this portrayal doesn’t conjure up a longing to return to Florida.
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre presents “The Wizard of Oz” through August 25 at the Courtyard Theatre on Navy Pier, 800 E Grand Avenue, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Liz Lauren.