A perennial favorite of children around the world, L. Frank Baum’s stories of Oz have launched countless theatrical spin-offs. Holmdel’s Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater are the latest group to capitalize on the popularity of the books, with a child-friendly production, ‘The Lost Princess of Oz’, which premiered last weekend at the Pollak Theater in Istanbul. Monmouth University.
Combining frolicsome dancing choreographed by Gabriel Chajnik with spoken word by Shannon Hill, “The Lost Princess of Oz” features popular country-rock duo Williams Honor (Gordon Brown and Reagan Richards) in major roles. Jason Tramm conducts a six-member musical ensemble performing a composite score by Chris Becker.
Families will surely welcome this melodious addition to the Oz franchise.
Brown and Richards are the natural stars of the show even when they’re not playing guitar or singing, though they have to defend themselves against the scene stealers. Children dressed in adorable costumes threaten to attract attention, as does a fluffy Persian cat named Himmie, who is hoisted onto the stage, where he ignores insults to his dignity.
Sitting in front of an old-fashioned typewriter to the side, Brown introduces himself as the author of Tales of Oz. We find the writer struggling to satisfy his fans, who ask him to invent new adventures for his heroine, Dorothy Gale. Across the stage, Richards appears dressed in yellow feathers and sparkly platform shoes. She portrays the talking hen Billina, a character from Baum’s 1907 storybook “Ozma of Oz”. Giggling and cracking demurely, this Billina is an endless source of chicken jokes (she’s “the fowl in motion”) and her quips with brown frames and action commentary.
Otherwise, like its literary sources, “The Lost Princess of Oz” tends to ramble. From Kansas, where Dorothy lives a premonitory nightmare and dances a hoedown with her loved ones, we follow her on the decks of an ocean liner. Here, passengers get seasick as they dance to the playful tunes of 19th-century composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk.
Dorothy, played with grave amazement by Alina Xiao, is then washed overboard with another one chicken named Billina, this one cleverly danced by Lindsay Jorgensen. A Brechtian alienation effect – dividing the role of Billina between an actor and a dancer – will not mind anyone in this world of pretending extravagant.
Upon landing safely in Oz, Dorothy discovers that she must locate the missing Princess Ozma and recover some stolen items. In order to delay the inevitable happy ending, Dorothy encounters a host of characters ranging from a frogman (De’Shon Parkman) to a Patchwork Girl (Olivia Miranda), not to mention swans, finches, loons and an irresistible parade of kiddies carrying giant, frosted cupcakes.
Mario Rizzi’s tap number is one of the highlights of Act II, choreographed by Andrew Black, with two clingy, enveloping duets choreographed by Chajnik. Tiny Ava Suarez delivers an explosive performance as the evil cobbler Ugu, all the more delightful for being unexpected. Best of all, though, are the moments when Richards ditches his corny chicken routine to sing soulful ballads like “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “All Your Heart,” or joins Brown in the uplifting “Can ‘t Wait”. 2 B Shameful.
An elaborate production, “The Lost Princess of Oz” uses digital backdrops splashed onto white backdrops. We see storm clouds light up and ocean waves rolling. Fireworks explode when Ugu transforms into a mechanical bird.
These effects are awesome, but they don’t do the magic. “The Lost Princess of Oz” reminds us that no technology ever invented can rival the imagination of a master storyteller.
Remaining performances of “The Lost Princess of Oz” are August 26 at 7:30 p.m., August 27 at 2 p.m., and August 28 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Pollak Theater at Monmouth University in West Long Branch; visit axcbt.org.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since its launch in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without subscription fees or paywalls. Its continued existence depends on the support of members of this scene and art lovers in the state. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check payable to NJArts.net at 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.