Stern College Dramatics Society’s “The Wizard of Oz"

By: Shoshana Bachrach  |  December 16, 2013

Wizard of Oz dress rehearsalStern College Dramatics Society’s fall production of “The Wizard of Oz” proved to be magical in more ways than one. With an impressive cast, clever choreography, and bright costuming, SCDS brought an optimistic classic to life, proving itself capable of tackling a larger production. The well-executed show diverted attention from – but didn’t quite conceal – the fact that the staging options available were not ideal.

Faced with the task of breathing new life into a well-known show, SCDS achieved success with aplomb, in large part due to an impressive cast. The three diva-ish talking trees and one-liners dropped by various Ozians nearly stole the show; every word out of veteran SCDS actress Tova Kay’s mouth had girls actually snorting with laughter. Sharona Kay (no relation) destroyed any lingering associations with Wicked’s sensitive Elphaba with a Wicked Witch who was at the same time hilariously psychotic and kind of terrifying. Rachel Sterman delighted as a patient and beatific Glinda, singing with the skill and ease of a veteran. The four travelers seeking the Wizard meshed into a terrific group, alternating between joy and fear with gusto. Talia Molotsky perfected the scarecrow’s clumsy yet controlled amble; Sara Rozner’s Tinman was, ironically, adorably wholehearted; Daniella Eson’s Cowardly Lion seemed to have leapt straight from the movie screen; and Zahava Taylor balanced Dorothy’s naïve determination with a knockout voice that seemed wise beyond her years. But due to consistently poor lighting, many scenes had the actors’ faces shrouded in shadow, taking away from the wonderful chemistry happening on stage.

Though the lighting was dim, the colorful and varied costumes nearly made up for it. The contrast between sepia-toned Kansas and technicolored Oz was created entirely by the costumes, with dusty browns and greens giving way to neons and brights. The varying styles and textures onstage were a clever move, keeping the all-green costumes of the Emerald City scenes from merging into one green mass. Choreographer Helene Sonenberg’s bouncy dance numbers matched the show’s optimistic vibe, with the costumes giving the dances even more life. A favorite was the oddly creepy jitterbug, where the witch’s minions attempted to dance Dorothy and Co. to death.  

Lighting, sound, and special effects were a mixed success, possibly due to the expansiveness of the stage. While Norman Thomas is a great resource for Beren Campus, its size can cause issues. Projections onto the huge background served as a set, which was a creative solution, but the image was barely visible whenever the lights were on. Still, well placed props, including an extremely impressive hand-constructed house, kept the effect from being entirely lost. A coughing smoke machine, meant to simulate the hurricane, would have needed steroids to even half-fill the stage, but the simple-yet-ingenious witch-melting scene all but made up for it.

Altogether, these flaws couldn’t bring down what was a definite success for SCDS. They brought back the punchy colors, didn’t-see-it-coming talent, and boundless energy that made last spring’s musical so popular. Hopefully, with more time spent in the venue, the hardworking SCDS will find some creative lifehacks to make Norman Thomas work better in their favor. It would be a shame for technical difficulties to undermine such amazing work and talent.