Review: A Beautiful Vision of How the Classic Tale of Oz Came to Be With OZ: A NEW MUSICAL at FreeFall Theatre Company
This world premiere musical is onstage through July 9th.
"Sometimes your heart knows things before your head can catch up..."-Frank
"Maybe I’m still trying to impress myself..."
Oz: A New Musical, is an original musical exploring the genius of L. Frank Baum and his complicated relationship with his most famous creation, the Land of Oz. This is the story of a dreamer at the dawn of a new age who reinvented the fairy tale in a distinctly American way, painting an idealized and magical vision of a world where witches might be good, and what you’re seeking is already inside you.
First and foremost a little history about L. Frank Baum. Baum was born May 15, 1856 in Chittenango, New York. Baum was an American author who was best known for the children's fantasy series, particularly The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In addition to his vast breadth of work, Baum also penned 41 other novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems, and around 42 scripts, outside of the 14 Oz books. After many numerous attempts at bringing his work to stage/screen, and to no avail, finally 1939 became the year that an adaptation of the first book of Oz would earn its place as a landmark of 20th Century Cinema.
L. Frank Baum. tried his hand as a Theatre Producer and Playwright, and proving unsuccessful, he and his wife packed up and headed west, opening a store in South Dakota where Baum edited and published a newspaper. Then following a move to Chicago, Baum became a newspaper reporter and began publishing children's literature, and in 1900 came out with the first book in the Oz series.
Amongst his final works, he looked into establishing a film studio focusing on producing children's films in Los Angeles, California.
Outside of his famed Oz series, Baum produced several other works of literature and prose under several different pseudonyms. Edith Van Dyne, Laura Bancroft, Floyd Akers, Suzanne Metcalf, Schuyler Staunton, John Estes Cooke, and Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald, to name a few.
On May 5, 1919, Baum suffered a stroke, went into a coma, and died the next day, at the age of 62.
Oz: A New Musical, tells the story of L. Frank Baum, his publishing of the Oz series, and his relationship with his family, including his wife Maud Gage Baum, her mother Matilda Joslyn Gage, their son Kenneth Gage Baum, and a girl named Dorothy, who started it all.
The performances displayed here are nothing short of magical, and our friends at freeFall Theatre under expert Direction from freeFall Artistic Director Eric Davis, and Musical Direction by Michael Raabe, have created a magical retelling of the life of a beloved children's literary genius. Placing their stamp once again on the bay area, and remaining on the cutting-edge of uniquely freeFall Programming that in turn keeps audiences coming back for more, season after season and simply "Escaping..."
Their production of OZ: A New Musical pulls out all the stops, and it's a thrilling and magical world premiere.
As Frank, David Foley, Jr. is marvelous in both stage presence and vocal ability. He's perfectly cast as our dreamer, and at the same time you feel his need to be able to provide for his family no matter the cost. His vocals during "Man Behind the Curtain" which comes later in the show is unmatched here. David was last seen on the freeFall stage in their inaugural production of The Wild Party as Burrs. A welcome return to the freeFall stage, and a breathtaking performance that needs to be experienced.
As Frank's wife Maud, Melissa Minyard is sensational. Her vocal strengths shine to new heights here, and the moments between her and Roxanne Fay's Matilda, are perfect in telling the relationship between mother and daughter. Maud is steadfast and loyal to her husband, and wants all his dreams to come true. A welcomed return to freeFall since last performing in End of the Rainbow as Judy Garland, and as Margaret Johnson in Light in the Piazza. Her moments especially in "He Tell's Stories," and "Mother, Sister, Friend," are pure standouts of the evening, and really highlight her vocals. Grounded in every moment, this is a beautiful performance and a great addition to our story.
Drew H. Wells, as Ken is young and full of life. Energy bursts at the seams every time he steps into the story, and his vocal strengths are top-notch. He also portrays the Scarecrow and Tin Man in a couple moments of the piece. "Not There Brain," is great fun and "Not There Heart," are both highlights of his performance.
Area favorite, Roxanne Fay is wonderful here as Matilda Joslyn Gage. She proves with her performance here, that as a performer she can do almost anything, her range is unmatched, and her talent is exponential. When Matilda is seen as a memory, or apparition, visiting the lives of her family she left behind, Roxanne's performance is as mesmerizing as it is heartbreaking. Her moments in "Mother, Sister, Friend," with Maud is a beautiful portrayal of Mother/Daughter relationships. As deemed before, I would move mountains to see anything in which Roxanne Fay, graces the stage, and as Matilda there is no exception, a truly stunning performance to witness.
As Dorothy, Elizabeth Meckler is full of heart. "A Place Called Oz," is a true finale moment, and show-stopping in every way. Her portrayal of such an iconic character is lifted to new heights here. What a wonderful moment to step into such an iconic character in a brand-new musical. That must have been the feeling Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel first had when stepping into Wicked for the very first time. New works brimming at the surface, waiting to be seen, is an exciting time not only for those taking on the roles, but also those in the developmental roles as well. She has a spark of innocence about her and her stage presence shines through in every moment, and beautiful vocals to match, makes this a knockout portrayal.
From production, to design elements, to the makings of this beautiful tale can only be something in the unique and capable hands of Eric Davis and Michael Raabe. As freeFall's Artistic Director, Eric Davis always wears many hats, and this is no exception. Not only did he write the book and lyrics for this brand new musical, but also added his expertise in areas of sound, props, and puppet design. When I say Davis and his team pulled out all the stops, there was never a more true statement said. As Music Director, both for this show and in residence, Michael Raabe also wrote the composition and lyrics for this new staging. From overture to the final note, Michael takes the audience on a beautiful journey that stirs the soul and breathes new life into this classic story. Always a buzz with genius ideas, Michael Raabe is a master of his craft and the team work solidified between Davis and himself is a pure work of Theatrical genius and magic, which culminated to the show being presented onstage, and one that will live in our hearts and memories for time to come.
Without the help of the other designers, OZ: A New Musical, would be nothing but a story on a page. The work of Hansen Scenic helped Davis/Raabe's work leap off the page and into our world. The beautiful costume work by David Covach helped uniquely identify each individual character within the story and fit seamlessly within the time period in which the story is placed. Exceptional wig design by Michelle Hart, helped transport modern performers to the characters in which they are portraying for the time period in which they live. Lighting Design by Dalton Hamilton helped evoke emotions for each scene, and complimented the scenic elements beautifully. My favorite thing is when technical elements breath new life into a story and almost become a character all their own. This can be said for the stunning lighting design produced here. Julia Rifino's scenic artistry helped evoke the world of the show, and thrust Hansen's vision to the front of the stage. The work of sound engineer Nathan Doyle, master carpenter James Putnam, master electrician Trenten Szabo and production stage manager Stephen M. Ray, Jr. all helped produce this beautiful new work, and make all the technical elements flow seamlessly together. As always design and production being top-tier, making this a standout, as we have come to regale as being exquisitely and uniquely freeFall.
Over the course of just under 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission, OZ: A New Musical soars to new heights in its world premiere. We all know the story of Dorothy and the World of Oz, we all know the story about what happened before Dorothy arrived, now with this magical and genius new work, we get to learn about how all of that was created, and the story of the man who created it all. Look for this to become a staple of Professional Theatre companies going forward. We have our friends at freeFall to thank, for after its premiere, they have created something worth sharing with the world, and I am so glad I was one of the first to experience its grandeur. Tickets are available for purchase at www.freefalltheatre.com or by calling the box office at (727) 498-5205.
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