With incredible jazz, an excellent ensemble of actors, colorful costumes, and imaginative staging, Harlem Repertory Theatre in collaboration with The Yip Harburg Foundation create a fresh view on a classic story. The Wizard of Oz has delighted audiences for decades, and while HRT’s production does the story justice, it also seeks to draw a new message for audiences of all ages.
The audience follows Dorothy (Taylor-Rey Rivera) as she runs away from home, crash lands in Oz, and follows the yellow brick road to find her way home. Along the way, she meets Scarecrow (Derrick Montalvo), Tin Man (Ben Harburg) and Lion (Dexter Thomas-Payne). Seeking their own potential, they travel to Oz to meet with the great Wizard (Daniel Fergus Tamulonis), who tasks them with killing the Wicked Witch of the West (Emily Ramirez). On their journey they learn how much brains, heart and courage they have, and Dorothy learns what it means to be home. In the end, Dorothy doesn’t just return home, she rebuilds home with her family. Her journey through Oz has taught her that home isn’t just a place, it is the loving space you create with other people, and with that love, you can accomplish anything.
Dan Aran’s musical direction shines throughout the piece. The jazz arrangements call for voices and quality of movement that are not typical of The Wizard of Oz. After the first delightfully chilling moment Taylor-Rey Rivera sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the iconic song becomes an anthem that the characters sing to remind themselves of hope, to overcome fear, and to realize their potential for thinking, feeling, and acting. Dan Aran’s various arrangements of the song magically nudge the characters into action.
The diverse cast of eleven is a cohesive unit of voices and movement. They are completely in sync with each other on every peak and valley of emotion. They portray relatable caricatures with an energy that encompasses the audience. Derrick Montalvo and Dexter Thomas-Payne (Scarecrow and Lion respectively) are invigorating with their energetic and constant movement in contrast to Ben Harburg’s stiff and deliberate Tin Man. Barbyly Noël delivers a graceful Glinda and a powerful Aunt Em.
The colorful costumes, simple staging and energetic ensemble create one of the best productions of theatre for young audiences that I have ever seen. Every child and adult in the audience was engaged throughout the entire performance. It would be a pity to miss this captivating rendition of The Wizard of Oz.
The Wizard of Oz: Harlem Repertory Theatre, Tato Laveria Theatre, 240 East 123rd St. Closes May 27th.