Review: Wonderful Wizard of Oz at Olympia Family Theater

by James O’Barr

Left to right: Kaiah Costa as Toto, Jada Miller as Dorothy, Toto puppet by String and Shadow Puppet Theater

Olympia Family Theater brings its 2023–2024 season to a glorious close with Jacqueline E. Lawson’s adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s beloved children’s classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The cast, as is always the case at OFT, comprises both young and not-so-young actors, smoothly stirred into a well-tuned ensemble by director Vanessa Postil. The story has been compressed into an hour of play time, with a 15-minute intermission, and part of the fun of watching it is the speed and energy with which the story is rolled out, almost like street theater, or commedia, or circus. Or like what happens when you have an ongoing collaboration with String and Shadow Puppet Theater! In any case,  one suspects it was that energy, especially early on, when the cyclone hits Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s farm, sending actors and puppets and props helter-skelter across and around the stage, that so riotously engaged the many kids in the opening night audience.

Then, too, there are the many winning performances, starting with the “leads” — the only actors who didn’t double (or triple, or quadruple) in other roles. The marvelous, multi-talented Jada Miller is a thoroughly  delightful Dorothy, and Kaiah Costa is totally endearing as Toto the dog and Toto the puppet (created by the folks from String and Shadow). Alayna Chamberland, getting a little break from her day job as OFT’s Production Manager, more than justifies her time off, handily playing Aunt Em, Locasta the Good Witch of the South, Glinda the Good Witch of the North, and an Oz puppeteer.  Oh, and she’s the show’s costumer extraordinaire. Al Oiseau makes his debut with OFT in high style, playing Uncle Henry, a Munchkin, the wonderful if distractable Wizard, and an Oz puppeteer. Debbie Sampson’s Wicked Witch of the West is everything a wicked witch should be, milk-curdling laugh and all. Lex Langguth-Torres as Scarecrow, Eyota Wak’ishwit as Tinlady, and Jasmine Gannie as the Cowardly Lion all shine bright as Dorothy’s traveling companions on the Yellow Brick Road, and Izumi Hufff, Twana Beedle, Ryker Wheeler, and Evan Grinnell-Holderman are more than good company along the way as munchkins, crows, flying monkeys, and even a ball of fire.

Left to right: Lex Langguth-Torres as Scarecrow, Eyota Wak’ishuit as Tinlady, Jasmine Gannie as Cowardly Lion, Jada Miller as Dorothy, Kaiah Costa as Toto

Ball of fire? That would describe the show’s creative crew, among whom are stage manager Anya Guadamuz, set designer Rebecca Rogers, and scenic artist Jordanna Averett. Live music effectively underscores the non-stop action on stage, and is provided by Cici Stephens on clarinet and Elijah Bellis on piano. In his spare time, Elijah also designed the lighting.

Left to right: Jada Miller as Dorothy, Lex Langguth-Torres as Scarecrow, Kaiah Costa as Toto

Lawton’s adaptation is drawn from L. Frank Baum’s book, without reference to the iconic MGM musical. Baum’s book has been called “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale.”  OFT’s production is a sweet introduction to that great fairytale, and a terrific theater experience for everyone, even those of us who longed to be over the rainbow.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (recommended for 5 years and older)

7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, (masks required for Sundays), May 10 – June 2

Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave. E, Olympia

Access-For-All (sliding scale), $5 to $35, general admission seating

(360) 570-1638

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