If you are parents or grandparents of preschoolers, and love theatre, a suitable show to introduce them to the magic of theatre isn’t always easy to find.
Gemini Children’s Theater has the perfect solution to introduce the kiddos to both live theatre and the Wizard of Oz. Their production, with an original musical adaptation for children by company founders Dennis Palko and Lani Cataldi, captures Dorothy’s (Savanah Bruno) adventure in a preschooler-friendly style. Dorothy sets out on the familiar yellow brick road, with her beloved pup Toto (Quincy Sauter). She meets the Scarecrow (Darrin Mosley, Jr.) Tin Man (Bogdan Haiko) and the Cowardly Lion (Bob Colbert). They accompany her to find the Wizard and ask for the things they need; a brain, a heart, some courage and a way home.
Palko and Cataldi along with Director June Beighley show their skill and experience in crafting a child-friendly production. It is not too loud, not too scary and it is very interactive. The lead actors play not only their characters but serve as “helpers” to keep the children in the audience engaged. Several times, just as the kids in the audience are on the edge of fidgety, the actors call them up on stage to help move the story along. The actors teach them movement and marching with magic scarves that each child receives upon arrival at the theatre along with poppies to cast a spell. Excess energy is burned off, and when the children return to their seats, they are ready to absorb a new character and situation. This approach works superbly well over the two-hour runtime, avoiding any meltdowns in the audience. The munchkins, flying monkeys, students, citizens and crabby trees are played both by children and adults further engage the young audience and perhaps sparking interest in participating on stage in the future. (Gemini offers classes for children interested in theatre.)
Bruno’s Dorothy approaches her adventure out of kindness and friendship, without fear. She yearns to get home, yet helps others along her way. Mosley’s Scarecrow takes advantage of his dance and theatre training at Slippery Rock with expressive movement and gestures. Haiko’s Tin Man is perfect. In an interesting twist, he channels a bit of C3PO from Star Wars, who was somewhat inspired by the Tin Man. The audience loved Colbert’s Cowardly Lion, the tough guy in search of courage. Carina Iannarelli as the Wicked Witch and Emily Palma as Auntie Em and Glinda (the good witch) are excellent in their portrayals.
Lani Cataldi has written new songs and lyrics for the production and serves as Musical Director for the production as well. While I confess I didn’t leave the theatre humming a tune from the show, the score and songs integrate very well into the flow of the story and serve as another means to engage the young audience. Gemini’s production is different than the MGM musical extravaganza, but no one seemed to mind.
The Wizard of Oz is an elaborate show to stage with many characters and locations. Dennis Palko’s set design is efficient and beautifully executed. Jill Jeffery’s costumes fit the bill perfectly, bright and colorful without overwhelming the characters. June Beighley’s imaginative direction seamlessly integrates it all together along with the audience interaction.
After the show, the entire cast is available to sign autographs in the lobby which is a nice touch for the kids. Space for the autographs is provided in the program. Gemini Children’s Theatre has been around for twenty plus years; they have the children’s theatre thing figured out. There new modern home at the Father Ryan Arts Center is the perfect intimate venue for their work.
If you have preschool kids or grandkids, Gemini Children’s Theater production of The Wizard of Oz is the perfect opportunity to introduce them to the magic of live theatre and spur their creativity and imagination.
The Wizard of Oz, by the Gemini Children’s Theatre at the Ryan Arts & Culture Center in McKees Rocks. Performances are at 1 pm and 3:30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays now through February 4th.
For tickets visit https://geminitheatercompany.thundertix.com/events/111239
Thanks to the Gemini Theater Company for the complimentary tickets.
Photos from Gemini Children’s Theater