Last Night: The Wizard of Oz at the Arsht Center

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Courtesy of BAA South Florida
Actors Noah Aberlin, Cassie Okenka, Jason Simon and Chris Kind follow the yellow brick road.

It takes nerve to recreate a movie on a stage, especially when that movie is as brilliant and beloved as The Wizard of Oz, but the new production that opened at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami last night pulls it off with ingenuity, verve, and polish. The show is based on a Royal Shakespeare production that launched in 1987, based on the 1939 film.
 
If you’ve ever attempted to read L. Frank Baum’s original children’s novel, you know that the movie was a great leap forward, largely thanks to Technicolor and a few indelible tunes by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, who nabbed an Oscar for “Over the Rainbow.”

The show at the Arsht wisely hews to the film. It even opens in sepia tones, the major characters costumed in various drab shades of brown and gray, with a narrow video screen backdrop showing the black and white Kansas plains. Then comes the twister, a modestly clever concoction on stage, and bam! -- enter color. The performers echo their screen predecessors competently while managing to inject a little fresh personality into them.

Opening the show on the 79th anniversary of Black Monday, what with that looming recession and all, maybe took a little nerve, too – along with the reminders of the Roaring Twenties in the Art Deco set design and a Jitterbug dance number. The film version of Oz was released as America was finally getting itself out of the Great Depression (“You’re out of the woods / You’re out of the dark / You’re out of the night”). If this latest rendition coincides with the arrival of a new one, what the hell -- might as well coast in color for a little while longer before it all goes black and white again.

-- Frank Houston

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