By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

“Iconic” is an overused word these days, but when you’re talking about “The Wizard of Oz,” there’s really no other—whether you mean the 1939 film with Judy Garland, L. Frank Baum’s book (it came first, you know), or a stage version.  The Alliance Theatre is currently holding forth with a charming “children’s theatre” version of the show, running through March 11.

I hasten to add that the Alliance’s 75-minute production will enchant any “Oz” fan, regardless of age.  I sat next to a gentleman with his two small sons in tow, but the dad was every bit as rapt as his children.  Such is the power of this work, which is firmly embedded in the American (and world) consciousness.

Director Rosemary Newcott comments that the design concept is American folk art:  For instance, “the Tin Man is composed of tin items and is, therefore, a folk art piece in and of himself.”  And, more important, the company has been successful in their quest to “create from the heart in ways that move the spirit.”   In other words, this “Oz,” brimming with color, seduces and delights.

That it does this without a stage full of live munchkins and flying monkeys (a la the 1939 film) is a real tribute to the talent and charm of the actors.  For example, the Scarecrow (Lowrey Brown) and the Tin Man (Jordan Craig) are so vulnerable, brave, and, well, human, that they melt your heart.  They also sing and dance with effortless grace.  The Cowardly Lion, one of the most comic and endearing characters ever created, is played flawlessly by Brad Raymond.  It’s moving to watch them summon all  their brains, heart, and courage to help Dorothy in her quest to see the Wizard and get home.

Sharisa Whatley’s Dorothy is yet another fine performance; her rendition of “Over the Rainbow” is simple, pure, and spot on.  All the important songs are here, incidentally, sung live with a recorded orchestra; it works.  Je Nie Fleming’s Wicked Witch of the West is superb, more amusing than scary.  (This is probably a good thing:  I know a grown woman who to this day cannot watch “The Wizard of Oz” because the Witch so terrified her as a child.)

Brandon O’Dell is an winning wizard; and Erin Meadows is comforting as Auntie Em and lovely as Glinda the Good Witch.  Reay Kaplan and Patrick McColery complete this fine cast.

Kat Conley’s inventive, flexible, and colorful set is a triumph; Sydney Roberts’ costumes are divine.  This “Oz” was adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company; it works for human beings of all ages.  Ms. Newcott’s direction is seamless; and her casting is perfect.

So will the Wicked Witch get her hands on Dorothy’s ruby slippers?  Well, my pretties, you know the answer to that.  By the way, there is also a clever use of puppets; but they don’t dominate the proceedings.  Your own imagination and the wonderful cast do that.

For tickets and information, visit www.allliancetheatre.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.