Synetic Theater’s mostly wordless adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz () conjures an otherworldly atmosphere for L. Frank Baum’s fantasy of an innocent girl’s odyssey through a strange, unfamiliar land. Director Ryan Sellers and choreographer Tori Bertocci, who co-adapted the text, create several striking visual moments thanks to effective scenery and costumes and evocative movement. Take Dorothy (Emily Whitworth) and her friends’ promenade through the infamous field of poisonous poppies. Staged as a revamp of “El Tango de Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge, it takes on some fascinating undertones. And revealing Emerald City as a town where everyone views the world through emerald-tinted lenses cues up clever jokes and good lighting.
However, lost in the craft and choreography is much of a message. Even the standard “There’s no place like home” sentiments don’t come across with a passion that might define this iteration of the oft-told tale.
Whitworth’s Dorothy pops — again, visually — but the performer doesn’t find a persuasive voice for whatever’s driving the wandering Kansan. Sellers and Bertocci struggle to do the same for Dorothy’s three road buddies and little dog Toto (Jacob Yeh) — the script emphasizes Scarecrow (Dallas Tolentino) as the trembling voice of her companions in Oz, to the production’s detriment. The Tin Man (Philip Fletcher) seems a faint accessory to the story, while the Lion (Lee Liebeskind) feels muzzled, although Liebeskind does invest his purring portrayal with personality.
The one character and performance that transmits the magnetism of a seeker on a mission is the Wizard himself. Robert Bowen Smith’s squirrelly, steampunk Wizard of Oz wants the hell out of this wacky, witch-filled purgatory, and he’ll take advantage of innocent Dorothy and her friends if he must. The actor’s a delight, and the story seems to want to go the Wiz’s way, but, alas, it floats off instead after Dorothy.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz runs until August 12 at Davis Performing Arts Center, Georgetown University. Tickets are $20 to $45. Call 866.811.4111, or visit synetictheater.org.
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