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Seattle Children’s Theatre Reimagines ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’

You won’t want to miss this fun spin on a classic story

Published on: April 06, 2023

Marena Kleinpeter in the Seattle Children's Theatre production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Photo by Truman Buffett
Marena Kleinpeter portrays Dorothy in Seattle Children’s Theatre’s production of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Credit: Truman Buffett

Dorothy has finally made it to the Emerald City — Seattle, that is. You have about six weeks (the show ends May 21) to follow the yellow brick road over to Seattle Children’s Theatre for its new production, a reimagination of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

The bottom line

As my 7-year-old and I took our seats, I realized we hadn’t done any homework. Oops! I’ve never read the book, and it’s been 20 years since I saw the movie. My daughter’s only exposure to the plot came from a Cosmic Kids Yoga video. I attempted a three-minute recap before the show started, but the curtain rose before I could give a proper synopsis.

Luckily, you don’t need to speed-watch the movie to refresh your memory. In fact, you might be better off without it. As it turns out, Jacqueline E. Lawton’s adaptation adheres more closely to L. Frank Baum’s novel than to the movie, leading to some surprises for fans of the 1939 Hollywood blockbuster.

Dorothy still travels from Kansas to Oz, embarking on a quest with a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion. She goes to ask the Wizard for help in returning home, but she does it in fabulous silver slippers.

Seattle Children's Theater lobby with child playing and a copy of playbill from the show "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
Credit: Natasha Dillinger

First, let us set the stage

You might expect a children’s theater to play down its set design (for simplicity at least, if not for budget reasons). Not so at SCT. The theater’s sets consistently reflect the spirit of the show with components that move, surprise the audience or are just plain fun.

The Gale family home and windmill bring you right into Kansas as you enter the theater. Stagehands spin the house as Ozians swirl around it to simulate the tornado’s fierce winds and the transition into Oz. My daughter named the effect as one of her favorite parts of the play, but it was the main set’s giant firefighter’s pole that really sparked her interest.

“It’s just like a playground!” she whispered with envy as Dorothy and her comrades slid down the pole on their pilgrimage toward the Emerald City.

Perhaps the most effective prop is a double-sided wheel — one side is just a metal frame that allows the audience to see characters traipse across a bridge, but the other is an eerie translucent green panel. Cast members waiting behind it provide foreshadowing at times (such as the announcement of the Tin Man’s arrival), but it also makes the perfect “curtain” for a shadow puppet version of the Wizard herself.

Yes that’s right, the Wizard is a woman — I told you there were surprises! Given how often SCT reimagines the classics, I half expected a “Wicked”-style twist in the character development or plot. However, most of the unexpected elements are minor and relate to differences between the novel and the film adaptation. You don’t have to worry about any major spoilers in this review.

SCT Chad Kelderman, Marena Kleinpeter, Jerik Fernandez, and Avery Clark in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Photo by Truman Buffett
Chad Kelderman, Marena Kleinpeter, Jerik Fernandez and Avery Clark in SCT’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Credit: Truman Buffett

Parents should know

I remember feeling quite scared of the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys as a child. From the conversations around us, I could tell that other parents also felt nervous about how their kids would react to a story where danger lurks around every corner.

The cast structure helps dispel some of the potential scare factor. SCT shows sometimes include one or two kids (such as Lisa, in SCT’s 2019 production of “Corduroy”), but the “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” features five actors in their early teens who alternate between playing munchkins and flying monkeys. Their youthful faces and movements helped us feel like we joined an elaborate game of pretend. As the Wizard of Oz tells Dorothy when she protests that she’s too young to defeat the Wicked Witch, “Make no mistake, children are wise and powerful.” With affirmations like that, who could be afraid of a Witch who just doesn’t want to share her shoes?

Despite the lack of scariness, I agree with SCT’s recommendation that the play is best suited for kids ages 5 and older. There are lots of character movements to keep track of and not as much audience interaction as we’ve typically seen in previous productions.

My mini theater critic recommends the show (especially as an excuse for a later bedtime), but you’d better head to Oz soon. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” wraps up SCT’s 2022–2023 season. So, unless you’ve booked one of its summer camps, you’ll have to wait until this fall for your next dose of SCT-style kid-friendly theater.

If you go …

When: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is on stage now and runs through May 21, 2023.

Where: Seattle Children’s Theatre is located at 201 Thomas St., Seattle, on the west side of Seattle Center. This show plays in SCT’s Charlotte Martin Theatre.

Tickets: $15–$45; buy tickets online for the best availability. SCT offers pricing tiers. Patrons can select their preferred ticket price, subject to availability. The tiers are premium ($35–$45 per adult, depending on the date and showtime, and $30–$40 per child); standard ($25–$35 per adult, $20–$30 per child) and value ($15–$25 per adult, $15–$20 per child). Select “value” from the dropdown menu on the ticket page to find the less expensive tickets. There are a limited number available for each performance.

Accessibility: SCT offers an ASL-interpreted performance (Saturday, April 29), an audio-described show (Saturday, May 6) and a sensory-friendly show (Sunday, May 7). Wheelchair and companion seating are available; check the theater’s accessibility page.

Age recommendation: SCT recommends this show for ages 5 and older.

Run time: About 60 minutes with no intermission. Now that’s what we call “One short [play] in the Emerald City …

Safety protocols: As of January 2023, well-fitting masks are encouraged at SCT performances, but not required. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test are no longer required. Read more on SCT’s health and safety page.

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