Theater Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ (American Conservatory Theater at the Toni Rembe Theatre)

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by Chuck Louden on June 9, 2023

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Just in time for summer and for Pride Month, a new, colorful and fun version of everyone’s childhood favorite movie based on L. Frank Baum’s books is here in San Francisco. American Conservatory Theater’s production, which opened June 8 at the Toni Rembe Theater, isn’t just for kids. We all have our own very distinct memories of The Wizard of Oz, but in this heartwarming, funny production — colorfully directed and choreographed by Sam Pinkerton — the timeless messages of love and friendship and searching for home are just as relevant today. And, boy, do we need it now.

In this whimsical, rich, chromatic version of the story, Dorothy trades in her gingham dress and braids for a more modern street wear look, complete with afro. The true test though for anyone playing Dorothy is the ability to sing the iconic “Over the Rainbow.” Bay Area native Chanel Tilghman belts it out of Kansas, and the park, and truly embraces the viewers.

Delivering the can’t-be-topped songs from Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, the rest of the cast, (most playing dual roles) are equally excellent: Daryl V. Jones, with his deep baritone voice, gives the Tin Man a certain dignity; Bay area favorite Danny Schie is silly and campy as Scarecrow; Cathleen Riddley is fun and sympathetic as the Cowardly Lion; Katrina Lauren McGraw steals all her scenes as both Good Witch Glinda and Auntie Em. Of course any production of The Wizard of Oz needs a mean and scary Miss Gulch, who morphs into the Wicked Witch of the West. Played by Courtney Walsh, this witch has bright purple hair and a white suit who evokes fear every time she makes an entrance.

The bright and dazzling costumes — green when they’re in Oz — are by David Zinn, whose set is minimal and drab when presenting Kansas — just as in the 1939 classic movie — and Munchkin Land and Oz are like a modern day “Whoville ” or “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” with colorful toys, bubbles and Christmas lights all over the set. Yes, it’s delightful, but rarely does theater feel this magical. Bring your children, bring your friends, bring your lovers — and since it’s Pride Month — bring your queers. San Francisco is our home, and there’s no place like it.

photos by Kevin Berne

The Wizard of Oz
A.C.T.’s Toni Rembe Theatre, 415 Geary Street in San Francisco
ends on June 25, 2023
for tickets, call 415-749-2228 or visit A.C.T.

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