It’s hard to think of a movie musical more classic or family-friendly than 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz.” The movie, based on writer L. Frank Baum’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” has proven so popular over the decades that it was adapted into a stage production by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987.
The resulting show, with a book by John Kane (adapted from Baum as well as the screenplay by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf), music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, and background music by Herbert Stothart, has since become a standard across the UK and the United States.
Zilker Theatre Productions’ latest free summer musical, running through Aug. 12 at the Zilker Hillside Theater, is a new production of this version of “The Wizard of Oz.” This is the 59th annual Zilker Summer Musical, and the most expensive show to date, with a great deal of that money clearly going toward creating the magic of Oz as experienced by naïve young Dorothy Gale, a Kansas farm girl transported to the other-dimensional realm via a convenient tornado. Through liberal doses of both theatrical innovation and beautiful carpentry and design, director J. Robert Moore and scenic designer Paul Davis effectively evoke both the plainness of Kansas (pun intended) and the splendor of Oz.
Much like the movie it is based on, Bilker’s “The Wizard of Oz” is long on broad, entertaining character types and short on actual character development. However, the zany antics of Dorothy and her companions (the “brainless” Scarecrow, “heartless” Tin Man, and “courageless” Cowardly Lion) play well in the open-air atmosphere of the Zilker Hillside Theater, with its huge, all-ages audience.
The main cast of the show all give big, broad performances that would be over-the-top in a small theater, but work nicely in this context. Andrew Cannata, Jordan Barron and Kirk Kelso, as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, respectively, are vaudevillian in their physical comedy and banter, while Emily Perzan’s Wicked Witch delights more in being comedic than overtly scary.
The production’s Dorothy, Hannah Roberts, is a star on the rise. She embodies the character’s youth and naivety in a charming, guileless manner, a complete turn-around from her delightfully dour portrayal of Wednesday Addams in last year’s Summer Stock Austin production of “The Addams Family.” She only manages to get upstaged by the exuberant full-cast numbers, which inventively feature children as the Munchkins of Oz performing the whimsical choreography of Adam Roberts (who is also the show’s musical director).
Zilker’s production of “The Wizard of Oz goes” beyond the show, itself, in order to create a full night of family entertainment. There are booths and amusements for kids to enjoy before the show, as well as refreshments that can be purchased both ahead of time and at intermission. Remember to bring a blanket and pillows along with some bug spray, and be sure to arrive early to pick out a good spot on the hillside.
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