The Wizard of Oz | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Film maven John Waters asked a heretical question: "Why does Dorothy want to get back to Kansas? It's so colorless." You might feel the same about Chicago after seeing this rainbow-glorious revival of John Kane's reverently hip adaptation of the beloved MGM movie musical. Marc Robin's ingenious staging builds on Dominic Missimi's 1998 production for Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Friends of Dorothy can expect much of the film's dialogue plus plenty of groaner puns, a hip allusion to The Lion King, a tortured joke on the monotony of the Winkies' marching dirge, and the witch's sardonic dismissal of Dorothy's "boundless optimism." Professor Marvel is cut, along with the Emerald City makeover scene, but several bits have been restored or added: the introduction to "Over the Rainbow," the crows' chorus in "If I Only Had a Brain," and a jubilant lead-in to the witch's first appearance. Always a delight, the black-lit "Jitterbug" number was perhaps too modern in 1939 to be included in the film but now dates things nicely. This production delights with its clever touches: a twister where colorful detritus swirls, a trio of sassy drag-queen apple trees, and an Emerald City that encompasses the entire theater. Cristen Paige is a velvet-voiced Dorothy, and the rest of the cast includes the husband-wife team of John Reeger, doubling as irascible Uncle Henry and the blowhard wizard, and Paula Scrofano as both fussbudget Aunt Em and the bell-voiced Glinda. Bradley Mott's Cowardly Lion comes right out of "Pyramus and Thisbe," Linda Kimbrough perfectly fuses grasping Elvira Gulch and the wicked witch, and Simon Lewis and Ed Kross make the Scarecrow and Tin Man very easy to love. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600. Through August 18: Wednesdays, 2 and 7 PM; Thursdays, 7 PM; Fridays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $38; $28 for children.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.

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