Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Double Oz In Greater Milwaukee

The Oz Series Hits Milwaukee Stages In Two Concurrent Productions

By Russ Bickerstaff
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As I write this, the touring Broadway production of the musical based on Gregory Maguire’s best-selling Oz fan fiction is only a little over one day away from opening. Envisioned as a darker prequel to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book is a deliberate re-working of Baum’s attempt to create sanitized fairy tales for modern kids.  110 years after the book was originally published in Chicago, The Walt Disney Company has done a remarkably good job of continuing (and pretty much finishing-off) Baum’s quest to make fairy tales sanitized. The dark, cautionary endings of so many traditional fairy tales have been almost completely deleted from contemporary consciousness.

Rather than working directly with those original European fairy tales as Disney would later do, Baum created a whole new American fairy tale set in Kansas and the mystical world of Oz. Maguire’s 1995 attempt to twist Baum’s vision into a more contemporary darkness to Oz was nothing new . . . though the only previous attempts I can remember seeing were critical papers suggesting that the story was sort of a metaphor told from Dorothy’s perspective. Was this series of adventures really just a series of psychiatric sessions with a psychotic, young girl who had suffered from sexual abuse? Was it really a look at central psycho-social of an America on the brink of entering two world wars, the great depression and the nuclear era? Perhaps something more political than that? Probably not, but it’s interesting to look at those books with an eye towards something darker. Lots of people have done so. Maguire has made a fortune doing so. And now the touring production of Maguire’s book makes it to the Marcus Center. Envisioned as a prequel to the first book in Baum’s series, the story tells the tale of a witch and how she got to be so nasty.

The touring Broadway adaptation of Maguire's book runs July 14th – August 8th at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

The final weekend the touring Broadway show is in town, Imagination Theatre of Gemrantown presents a staging of the musical that came before—The Wizard of Oz. The production features songs likely to be far more recognizable to a wider range of audiences than the touring Broadway show as Imagination is using the Harold Arlen/ E.Y. Harburg music and lyrics from the MGM musical. This is musical that’s been drilled into contemporary consciousness for over 70 years. It should be fun to see a small company in Germantown.

Imagination Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz runs August 6th – 8th at Brown Deer High School on 8060 N 60th Street. For more info, call 262-957-0399.

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