Kansas City Ballet Dancers Cameron Thomas and Amanda DeVenuta with company dancers in Septime Webre’s The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.
“But what IS Tales of Hoffman?” I used to pester my mother, every year at The Nutcracker. She didn’t know then and I don’t know now. It’s the procession of spectacular set pieces in The Kansas City Ballet’s Wizard of Oz that brought The Nutcracker to mind. Because this story we do know, very well, and so what transporting fun, right here in Dorothy country, to watch each beloved scene explode onstage with playful inventiveness, a kaleidoscope of bursting color, energy and joy.
Director/choreographer Septime Webre uses every trick in the book to amp the entertainment quotient, from sophisticated 3D video projection (Aaron Rhyne) to good old-fashioned stagecraft like waving pennants, juggling apples, a puppet Toto, adorable leapfrogging kiddos, and more flying than a Julie Taymor Spiderman. Visually stunning and conceptually clever sets by Michael Raiford and costumes by Liz Vandal add to the nonstop pyrotechnics.
And then there’s the dance — spirited, charming, and lively with allusion. The three farmhands’ jetés shuffle into hoedown. The “bricks” of the famous Yellow Brick Road break into the floss. Ziegfield Follies chorus girls kick high in the Roaring Twenties Emerald City Music Hall, and its speakeasy nightclubbers point to giant emerald disco balls à la Saturday Night Fever. To put it in the current parlance, the witty cultural references make the elegant, sure-handed choreography more relatable. But it was notable that some of the biggest applause of the night was for Whitney Huell and Angelin Carrant’s lyrically classic duet.
In other words, Webre makes sure there is plenty for everyone. And his dancers deliver. Amanda DeVenuta is fresh and game as Dorothy. Her companions create appealing and rounded characters — Cameron Thomas’s comically loose-limbed Scarecrow recalls Ray Bolger’s dancer chops; Lamin Pereira’s Tin Man is equal parts heartbreaker and heartthrob; and Liang Fu’s Lion is a swaggering, virile, rockstar softie. Danielle Fu is a standout as Miss Gulch / The Wicked Witch of the West. Her haughty aerial bike ride is a highlight of the night.
This is a magical Wizard, a whirlwind of thrills and beauty to gladden the eyes, jumpstart the heart and set our ruby slippers tapping.
Kansas City Ballet Dancers Amanda DeVenuta, Liang Fu, Lamin Pereira, Cameron Thomas and Malerie Moore in Septime Webre’s The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.