The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz House Theatre of Chicago

4 STARS - This "fresh interpretation offers plenty to recommend it. The House is at it's best when it makes us believe in wizardry while we're seeing behind the curtain." - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago

3 STARS - "An emotional contemporary telling... Very hip, cleverly theatrical, and quite potent in its imaginative power." - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

$15-$45 ($15 thru 3/26) .  Tix/Info: 773-769-3832

3/17/17 - 5/7/17

Thu-Sat 730p; Sun 7p (eff. April 1st matinees Sat 3p; Sun 3p)

FOUR STARS - Go back over the rainbow with the House's remount of its engaging Oz riff - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 4/15/17 - "The House Theatre reaches back down its own yellow brick road to revisit another early hit, Phillip Klapperich's 2005 reconceiving of L. Frank Baum's original Oz story. Riffs on The Wizard of Oz are as common at this point as new takes on Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan; the House's isn't even the only version of Dorothy's story in Chicago right now, with Kokandy Productions' excellent revival of The Wiz still onstage a couple of miles north. (Perhaps theater makers desperate for new public-domain source material should band together to lobby Congress for copyright-law reform.)

Luckily for audiences, these stories provide sturdy frameworks for fresh interpretation, and Klapperich's retelling offers plenty to recommend it, from its smart modernization of the characters' vernacular to pathbreaking theatrical story beats for everyone from the Wizard to Toto, the latter again endearingly embodied by original cast member Joey Steakley. (The little dog, too, provides the moment most likely to make this version too scary for very young audience members.) AnJi White is a delicious new addition, savoring the Witch of the West's wicked ways, and Michael E. Smith's comic presence is deeply appreciated as the Lion, with a dash of southern-fried Lahr.

It's also rewarding to see how far the House's theatrical capabilities have come over the last dozen years, as well as when they remember to keep it simple. Witness the climactic attack of the flying monkeys, which sends actors soaring over our heads in a space where that feels like it should be impossible, even as we're in full view of all the ropes and run crew. They may have heftier budgets these days, but the House is still at its best when it makes us believe in wizardry even while we're seeing behind the curtain"


THREE STARS - "'The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz' lands back at the House in time for a dark family spring break", Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 4/11/17. - "In 2003, director Amanda Dehnert (who now teaches at Northwestern University) staged an infamous production of "Annie" at Rhode Island's Trinity Repertory Company that ended with the titular spunky orphan finding herself back in her bed at Miss Hannigan's orphanage: Sandy, Daddy Warbucks and the Fifth Avenue curly perm had been nothing more than a cruel dream.

Martin Charnin, who created "Annie," was apoplectic at Dehnert's unctuously conceived "framing device" and insisted on the restoration of the original happy ending. But every time I have to review "Annie," I always wish I had been able to see that production - which was very much in sync with what an upstart Chicago company calling itself the House Theatre was doing around the same time.

Take, for example, House's 2005 production of "The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz," a show that has returned to the Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park just in time for a dark, family, spring-break experience.

The singularity of the piece, penned by Phillip Klapperich and directed, then and now, by Tommy Rapley, isn't so much in its deviance from the story by the Chicagoan who called himself L. Frank Baum. This was not a self-referential, "Wicked"-style prequel, very much aware of the movie and all it represents in popular culture. And Klapperich (who now has left Chicago) did not have to deal with living authors who tend to like to be consulted on these matters. I wrote at the time Klapperich's stage adaptation was very much in sync with the intensity and darkness of the original story about a young girl from Kansas filled with trauma, who finds herself attacked as a murderer and who has to deal with everything from dangerous primates to soporific poppies. And, of course, who maybe just falls asleep and has a nightmare.

What Klapperich and his young pals at House were doing wasn't that different from what they'd just tried with a previous show, a riff on J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan," a show I'd greatly admired not least for the way it homed in on the weird and troubling aspects of the Barrie story, mostly ignored in every other version.

The company now known as the House Theatre of Chicago is in the midst of a phase which involves the reprising - they would prefer to call it the reimagining - of some of its prior work. The impulse is understandable - new work is hard to pull off, so it makes sense to exploit again the ones that actually worked, and there is certainly a new audience for "The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz."

The target audience probably is your Wicker Park post-collegiate millennial, someone who appreciates the regressive pleasures of a classic story also gaining some intensifying social, feminist and emotional consciousness. But "The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz" is a very interesting choice for your family theatergoing - assuming your kids are at least 11 years old or so.

If they're younger than that, you might worry about the scene where one of the characters on Dorothy Gale's great quest to go home meets an unpleasant fate. Or where Dorothy talks about how her parents died and she found herself shipped from cool Chicago, where she felt like she very much belonged, to rural Kansas, where she surely did not, and where all the kindness in the world of her Aunt Em could not assuage her essential alienation.

Dorothy - who now is played, and with the right mix of vulnerability and resilience, by Kara Davidson - is very much a recognizable teenager in this version. Instead of all of the characters in her dream operating as farmhands, as they do in the movie - they represent a school board rejecting Dorothy from one of their programs, a program that she thinks might save her, because she does not seem sufficiently sure of what she wants to do. Not everything in the piece is as telling or emotionally resonant, although AnJi White does not mess around as The Witch of the West (the wickedness is in the beholding) and Joey Steakley, who plays Toto (as he did years ago) packs a lot of emotional wallop into manipulating a little, loyal dog.

"Can you go home again?" I wrote in my notes Sunday afternoon, wondering whether this show really reflected the moment, or a company that has aged and changed over the years. Probably not. Certainly, the show felt far more singular and au courant the last time around, and the emotional connections ran further through the large cast.

But I stared at some of the younger theatergoers and saw them watching Davidson and trying to understand what she was going through, and maybe applying it against their own trip to Oz. I'm glad the show is back".

Great & Terrible Wizard of Oz, Tony Adler, Chicago Reader 3/22/17. - "This Dorothy has a cell phone. Yes, she desperately wanted out of Kansas, but, no, she didn't expect to leave by way of tornado. Now, terrorized by the Wicked Witch of the West, she's leading a motley crew down the yellow brick road and thinking Kansas wasn't so bad after all. Revived by the House Theatre of Chicago, which premiered it in 2005, Phillip Kapperich's stage version of the L. Frank Baum classic is inventive, amusing, familiar without getting slavish about it, and just arch enough to be hip without spoiling things. AnJi White is Marvels Comics sleek rather than Margaret Hamilton shriveled as the evil witch. Joe Steakley is sweet and fey as that original friend of Dorothy, Toto. But Christine Mayland Perkins is the luckiest cast member: her Scarecrow gets to build a brain of her own, delightfully, from scratch".


"The Road Less Followed: A Review of The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz at The House Theatre of Chicago", Kevin Greene NewCity Chicago 3/22/17. - "Like the Pevensies and their wardrobe, the eternally youthful crew at The House Theatre return to "The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz" after twelve years away. Phillip Klapperich's twisted adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novel places a greater emphasis on personal agency and the endlessness of the path of life.

Featuring a dexterous and multi-talented ensemble lead by Kara Davidson as Dorothy, "Oz" is very much a group effort. Its pleasures increase exponentially with each additional personality from Christine Mayland Perkins' pitch-perfect Scarecrow to the strutting badassery of AnJi White's Witch of the West. And while the laughs are many (thanks in large part to Perkins, though the energetic ad-libbing of the Ozian chorus is also a constant delight), there are also candid moments of effective sentimentality, notably the slideshow presentation of Dorothy's life by Toto (Joey Steakley).

In this "Oz," the camaraderie between the leads comes about through a more thorough examination of the character's emotional, intellectual and heroic deficits and their individual capacity to discover themselves through their perceived weaknesses. As morals go you could do much worse. Swapping ruby slippers for bloodied boots, "Oz" is a playful adventure that doesn't take the long way around the dark forest of reality.

Those who've been here before know that it's not a House show without something descending from the ceiling. And while in most cases that doesn't refer to avian primates, "Oz" is the exception that proves the rule thanks to Ryan Bourque's thrilling choreography. As a restlessly creative company, The House Theatre continues to eschew traditional theatrical presentation, reinventing their approach with each new production.

Admittedly, this "Oz" is a bit of an embarrassment of narrative riches and a case could be made for cutting some of the musical interludes as well. I suspect, as is so often the case with this company, that an intermission was necessary for setting up some of the more elaborate stunts and effects of the second act. Still, some streamlining could help make this story as taut as the lines that carry the flying monkeys.

If the company does plan to revisit this wonderful world again in the future and if Dorothy is to be played by an actor who is obviously not an adolescent, I'd imagine that "The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz" could be updated to reflect the deep feelings of uncertainty felt by those who have already followed at least one passion down an equally expensive road only to arrive at an unremarkable dead end. For as they say in less magical lands: the struggle is real".

Highly Recommended - A Darker Side of the Rainbow, Colin Douglas @ - "After the board of a prestigious private school turns down her application for admittance, recently orphaned adolescent, Dorothy Gale (played with charisma, strength and determination by Kara Davidson), sadly returns to her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's Kansas farm. Upon arriving home, Dorothy finds that a violent storm is approaching; however, her aunt and uncle are nowhere to be found. Soon the raging winds are carrying the poor, terrified teenager far away to a place called Munchkin Land, where Dorothy's hailed as a hero and The Witch Slayer. Confused, the young girl discovers why she's earned this title, when Glinda the Good Witch reveals that Dorothy's house has crushed and killed the Wicked Witch of the East. She also points out that Dorothy now wears the evil sorceress' magic silver boots, splattered red with her blood.

Sound slightly familiar? L. Frank Baum's eternally popular children's book spawned an entire series of Oz literary adventures, as well as the 1939 cult film classic and a whole slew of musical and dramatic adaptations. As a matter of fact, at this time there are no less than three other productions of the story playing on stages around Chicagoland. This revised version of The House Theatre's twelve-year-old favorite, written by Phillip Klapperich, adds several new twists and contemporary updates to an already wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Dorothy declines an invitation to remain in Munchkin Land, extended by its citizens and Glinda (played with regal arrogance and grace by Amanda de la Guardia). Instead, Dorothy and her sweet, canine companion, Toto (a fluffy puppy puppet perfectly inhabited by Joey Steakley), elect to take their chances, traveling down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City. Once there, Dorothy hopes to be granted a personal audience with the Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, to request his help in getting back to Kansas.

Along her way, Dorothy meets the lovable Scarecrow, an hilarious new friend, born just the day before. He delights with his innocent naivete and a seriously problematic absence of short-term memory. Constantly spouting malapropisms, he's wonderfully played with wide-eyed wonder and amiability by Christine Mayland Perkins. Next, Dorothy meets the stoic, silver-toned Tin Woodsman, played with tenderhearted machismo by Jeremy Sonkin. Last of all, the trio encounter the Cowardly Lion, a pompous pussycat of a dude, performed with phony bravado and comic excellence by Michael E. Smith.

Dorothy and her friends cope with all sorts of obstacles in her dark travels down the Yellow Brick Road. First, she's torn by the demands of two lifelong enemies who are continually at odds with each other. They're the vile, blood-thirsty Wicked Witch of the West, a terrifying AnJi White, and the ever-demanding, egotistical Wizard, a glorious green despot, played with gumption by Benjamin Sprunger. The four friends also encounter a field of sleep-inducing poppies, a herd of giant, prehistoric monsters and a flock of frightening flying monkeys, as they travel on their way.

Tommy Rapley has staged and choreographed his ever-mobile production alley style, with curtained, proscenium stages anchoring each end of the playing area. He directs this beloved story at lightning speed, pausing only momentarily for the audience to catch its breath or to reflect upon their journey. Rapley's ably assisted by Ryan Bourque, who provides some super exciting fight and flight choreography.

Joseph A. Burke lends his creative touch with moving projections that enhance Collette Pollard's deceptively simple and clever scenic design, that places the audience right in the middle of the action. An effective lighting plot and soundtrack, designed, respectively, by Lee Keenan and Grover Hollway, add so much to this production; and the always inventive Mieka van der Ploeg creates a wardrobe of unique, eye-popping costumes that add color and personality to each character. But, in true House Theatre style, it's the wonderful life-size puppet creations by Jesse Mooney-Bullock that provide that extra special touch to this often ominous fantasy.

Recommended for everyone, from children, ages 10 and up, to adults hungering for an escapist, two-act fantasy that's unique yet familiar, this restaged production from twelve years ago is fresh and full of unexpected humor. Tommy Rapley's dynamic production takes L. Frank Baum's timeless children's classic, written back in 1900, into the 21st century. With cell phones, powerpoint presentations, blue jeans and cowboy boots, this dark, funny, multimedia version of one of kiddy-lit's most beloved stories is a production that put The House Theatre of Chicago on the map. Just follow the Yellow Brick Road once again to bewitching enchantment and be prepared to be astounded"


Review "The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz" (House Theatre of Chicago): Good and Terrifying,
- "To be clear, this isn't Judy Garland's "Wizard of Oz." Although House Theatre recommends this production for ages 10 and up, I'm not as certain. I don't want to spoil the dramatic roll-out so I'll just simply say witches are not the only yellow brick road kill. Playwright Phillip Klapperich goes darker and deeper in his adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic. The term ‘witch slayer' is thrown around to remind us that murder prompted the adventure. The heartless Tinman (played by a solid Jeremy Sonkin) continually threatens to kill or maim... even to his traveling companions. And the wicked witch (played by a deliciously malevolent AnJi White) is just a smug bitch.

To lighten the journey, Klapperich dribbles plenty of comedy into his sinister tale. An adorable Joey Steakley is the beloved Toto. Steakley, clad in black, has a pink dog hand puppet. His mere presence adds a playful spirit as he refuses to budge, barks hysterically or licks his balls. At one point, a projected montage (Joseph Burke, projections designer) illustrates Toto and Dorothy's relationship. Steakley narrates the flashback talking about ‘friends of Dorothy' and his own loyalty to the girl who rescued him. Steakley brings a lot of heart and humor into his delivery. Another strong comedy standout is Christine Mayland Perkins (Scarecrow). Perkins' timing and deapan perfectly channels Ellen in ‘Finding Dory.' She makes the scarecrow into an endearing and hilarious simpleton. A regular on the House stage, Michael E. Smith (Cowardly Lion) brings his own signature comedic style. Smith plays the lion with a cocky swagger and a mousy timidness. In the field of posies, he hysterically circles his resting spot with animal prowess. The talented ensemble are all ready to buffoon-it-up for a laugh. One of my favorite shticks is the ongoing arrival of Glinda (played by Amanda de la Guardia). Wherever they are looking for de la Guardia to appear, she shows up behind them. Funny stuff!

Klapperich also cleverly adds depth. He expands on what it means to have a home, brain, heart, courage. The familiar fantasy kicks off with Dorothy (played by Kara Davidson) applying to a school. She is trying to convince the school panel - White, Benjamin Sprunger (Oz), de la Guardia - that she knows who she is, what she wants and where she is going. A school admission process is a nice contemporary twist to represent Dorothy's not feeling she belongs. Klapperich layers in plenty of one-to-grow-on learning moments for all the principals. It definitely adds depth and length to the story. In particular, the Tinman's backstory is very dark. Whereas an adult audience may appreciate learning about his bloody heartache, kids would get confused in the gory details.

The challenge of House's OZ is that it wants to appeal to adults and kids over 10. Director Tommy Rapley certainly orchestrates an innovative adventure. The tornado sequence has the floorboard being ripped up to reveal the yellow brick road. In the most unforgettable scene, flying monkeys descend on Dorothy and friends. They thrillingly swoop in and viciously attack. It's equally impressive and intense. These action-oriented sequences would engage adults and kids. It's the character exposition and accompanying soliloquies that might make kids (and some adults) squirm in restlessness. And it's the unexpected ruthless acts of evil that could give kids (and some adults) disturbing nightmares. Although I enjoyed THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE WIZARD OF OZ, it needs to be tighter and lighter for a family-friendly outing.


The House Theatre Presents THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE WIZARD OF OZ Review - Dark Spectacle in This Oz, Brent Ervin-Eickhoff @ - "The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, adapted from the book by L. Frank Baum and now playing at The House Theatre of Chicago is not the Judy Garland classic many people were raised on. Though Phillip Klapperich's adaptation adds some twists and turns to the classic tale in modernizing it, the set-up ultimately remains the same. A girl named Dorothy, living in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, is transported by tornado to a magical world of wizards, wonder, and wicked witches. She embarks on a quest to find the Wizard of Oz, in the process meeting a talking Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion, and learning a lesson or two along the way. All of this is familiar territory to most viewers; however, there are several additions to the production which attempt to modernize the narrative, some more successfully than others.

In modernizing this tale for contemporary audiences, the production takes some liberties with the story, at times adding a rougher edge of darkness to the mostly-light story. Dorothy, for example, has a smart phone and is interviewing for a prestigious school at the top of the show. They ultimately decline her application as a result of her lack of clear passion, making her journey to the Wizard as much a quest for her identity as it is a way back home. Klapperich also embraces the more "terrible" aspects of Oz in addition to what makes it "great." Dorothy is frequently referred to as a "Witch Slayer" throughout the production in reference to the events that have granted her power in this world. Additionally, the "ruby slippers" of the original storyline have been replaced by blood soaked rain boots.

Another major addition in this updated take on the story is the presence of a monster in the woods, the Kalidah, which attacks the travelers along the way. This monstrous puppet, impressively designed by Jesse Mooney-Bullock, looks like a cross between a bear and a horned bull, towering over our heroes until it loses a limb to the Tin Woodsman's axe. While the inclusion of this scene is both exciting and imaginative, it doesn't feel completely substantive. The choice feels more in service to the spectacle of The House's mission to stage "amazing feats of storytelling" than to the story of a heroine coming into her own.
Immersive Design At The House Theatre

While the content of The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz is at times darker than the original source material, the world of the play has been mostly designed in similarity to its classic 1939 iteration. Mieka van der Ploeg's costume design is bright and colorful, with special attention paid to the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion.

Here, van der Ploeg's work with textures really helps to establish the materials that make up each character, be they tufts of straw poking from sleeves, the chrome-painted head of actor Jeremy Sonkin, or the Wild West inspired fur chaps worn by the Cowardly Lion. Costuming diverges into darker territory with the design of The Witch of the West, whose fiery streaks of red hair and malevolent makeup combine with a spiderwebbed white dress to create a character who appears truly wicked.

The yellow brick road also separates two banks of audience, with the action staged mostly in the middle on a playing space similar to a runway. Behind each section of audience are screens that display the magical projection design of Joseph A. Burke, displaying everything from a field or red poppies to two magical streams colliding in a supernatural battle.

Unfortunately, the unique configuration of the audience combined with a shadowy tree backdrop that rests in front of the screens obscures these projections at times, and there are other times when actors' blocking feels similarly ill-suited for this kind of performance configuration.

If there is one reason to see The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, it is for its committed approach to pushing the limits of typical storefront theatrics. From the gargantuan Kalidah to puppet crows and wolves, it is clear that director Tommy Rapley has chosen to emphasize spectacle above all else in his production. This decision is made no clearer than in the scene featuring an attack on the party of travelers by the Witch of the West's fearsome winged monkeys. Despite The House's small playing space, several actors are flown through the air, performing chaotic acrobatic maneuvers inches above audience members. The short-lived, though exhilarating scene is the high point of the production, heightening the tension while in service to the story.

The graphic and manipulative death of a beloved character in Act II gives me pause about recommending this piece for families, even at The House's suggestion of kids 10+. At the matinee I saw, many audience members (there were two visiting groups of high school and college students) were visibly torn up for the remainder of the performance, speaking to the affecting nature of a scene which blindsided all present. While I understand the desire to darken the source material and open up a conversation about death, The Wizard of Oz doesn't strike me as the best vessel for this message, nor do I think the production earns this moment or illustrates how it comes to truly define Dorothy. This major departure from the source material, as well as the particularly ghoulish image of the Witch of the West peeling the skin from her body when water is thrown on her feels a bit more PG-13 than most theatre for younger audiences.









From House Theatre

A twister lands our teenage Dorothy and her house in Munchkinland. Right on top of a wicked witch. Her phone won't work, her dog is scared, and she's desperate to get home to what little family she has left. But the town's residents are gleefully celebrating Dorothy's powers as the fabled Witch Slayer. When Glinda and the munchkins can't convince her to stick around and be their new hero, they send her off on the road of yellow brick wearing magical boots soaked in the red blood of the slain witch. A favor from the fabled all-powerful Wizard will be her only chance to get out of Oz.

Unsure about her path forward, Dorothy teams up with a one-day-old Scarecrow, a heartbroken Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion. Her boots, and their friendships, guard against lots of danger on their way to the Emerald City. But the Wizard will ask the Witch Slayer to live up to her violent and vengeful new name in exchange for a return ticket to her old life. If she can get home, Kansas may never be the same.



By Phillip Klapperich. Adapted from L. Frank Baum

Tommy Rapley

Kara Davidson, Michael E. Smith, Ben Hertel, Joey Steakley, Anjli White, Elana Elyce, Christine Mayland Perkins, Benjamin Sprunger, Tina Munoz Pandya, Jeremy Sonkin, Amanda de la Guardia, Carlos Olmedo

Scenic Design – Collette Pollard; Composer – Kevin O’Donnell, Projections – Joseph Burke; Lighting – Lee Keenan; Music Director – Matthew Muniz; Magic Designer – Dennis Watkins; Costume Designer – Mieka van der Ploeg; Fight Choreographer – Ryan Borque; Sound Designer – Grover Holloway; Puppet Designer – Jesse Mooney-Bullock; Stage Manager – Brian DesGranges; Props Master – Eleanor Kahn; Technical Director – Bobby Huggins; Master Electrician – John Kelly; Asst Stage Manager – Veronica Bustoz; Scenic Charge – Coco Ree Lemery; Asst Costume Manager – Maddy Low; Floor Manager – Rachael Koplin; Costume Manager – Jerica Hucke

Tags: Theater, American, 2017