When kids surprise us, it’s not just because they’re doing something in a mature way. It’s because they’re doing something that most adults can’t do. This was true of the actors in Mill Mountain Theatre’s “The Wizard of Oz: Young Performers’ Edition,” which played on the Trinkle Main Stage at Center in the Square Saturday afternoon.
The production featured students from the Mill Mountain Theatre Conservatory, an educational program that teaches students from kindergarten to 12th grade the professional and technical sides of theater. The director of education, Anna Kimmell, also directed and choreographed “Oz".
Using the music and lyrics of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, from the film adaptation, MMT’s “Oz” streamlined the story — a bit too quickly at times — of Dorothy Gale’s (Kelly Devens’) fantastic journey through the Land of Oz with her flawed companions the Scarecrow (Elijah Cortez), the Tin Man (Kyle Fauber), and the Lion (Jack Fishwick). Devens captured that Garland-esque goodness and constant surprise in her voice while Fishwick was the star of the three companions, doing his best rolling-lion singing voice and moving well in cowardly bluster.
The other highlight performances were by Hannah Ruth Wellons (“Proof”) as the Wicked Witch and Ben Kennedy as Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz. Wellons’ cackle and screech were frighteningly accurate, and Kennedy provided such a well-groomed imitation of an old man, it was hard to believe the actor was of high school age. In fact, all of the performers, from ensemble to the Munchkins, played their roles with a touch of professionalism.
In addition, Kimmell (and her assistants) conceived of the sets, characters and choreography in a kid friendly and original way. The tornado winds were animated by dancers rounding Dorothy with sheer cloth. Toto (Taylor Berenbaum) came to life as a bark-talking kid; the apple trees were sassy ladies and the crows were comically honed teenage pests.
The sets and costumes infused essential ideas into the places and characters. The Kansas homestead was a minimalistic set, with gray portions of the house and farm illuminated by desiccate frontier scenes projected in the background. Munchkinland and the Emerald City were painted vividly (with students’ help, no doubt) onto the back walls, giving the sets their proper depth and transportive power. By far the most successful adornment was the mechanized face of “the great and powerful” Oz.
It’s a surprise well worth buying a ticket and following the yellow brick road.