Zilker Theatre’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is fun for parents and their munchkins

It’s hard to think of a movie musical more classic or family-friendly than 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz.” The movie, based on writer L. Frank Baum’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” has proven so popular over the decades that it was adapted into a stage production by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987.

Andrew Cannata, Hannah Roberts and Jordan Barron perform in “The Wizard of Oz,” the 59th annual Zilker summer musical presented by Zilker Theatre Productions. (TAMIR KALIFA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The resulting show, with a book by John Kane (adapted from Baum as well as the screenplay by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf), music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, and background music by Herbert Stothart, has since become a standard across the UK and the United States.

PHOTOS: ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at Zilker Hillside Theater

Zilker Theatre Productions’ latest free summer musical, running through Aug. 12 at the Zilker Hillside Theater, is a new production of this version of “The Wizard of Oz.” This is the 59th annual Zilker Summer Musical, and the most expensive show to date, with a great deal of that money clearly going toward creating the magic of Oz as experienced by naïve young Dorothy Gale, a Kansas farm girl transported to the other-dimensional realm via a convenient tornado. Through liberal doses of both theatrical innovation and beautiful carpentry and design, director J. Robert Moore and scenic designer Paul Davis effectively evoke both the plainness of Kansas (pun intended) and the splendor of Oz.

Much like the movie it is based on, Bilker’s “The Wizard of Oz” is long on broad, entertaining character types and short on actual character development. However, the zany antics of Dorothy and her companions (the “brainless” Scarecrow, “heartless” Tin Man, and “courageless” Cowardly Lion) play well in the open-air atmosphere of the Zilker Hillside Theater, with its huge, all-ages audience.

The main cast of the show all give big, broad performances that would be over-the-top in a small theater, but work nicely in this context. Andrew Cannata, Jordan Barron and Kirk Kelso, as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, respectively, are vaudevillian in their physical comedy and banter, while Emily Perzan’s Wicked Witch delights more in being comedic than overtly scary.

MORE PHOTOS: The Zilker Summer Musical through the years

The production’s Dorothy, Hannah Roberts, is a star on the rise. She embodies the character’s youth and naivety in a charming, guileless manner, a complete turn-around from her delightfully dour portrayal of Wednesday Addams in last year’s Summer Stock Austin production of “The Addams Family.” She only manages to get upstaged by the exuberant full-cast numbers, which inventively feature children as the Munchkins of Oz performing the whimsical choreography of Adam Roberts (who is also the show’s musical director).

Zilker’s production of “The Wizard of Oz goes” beyond the show, itself, in order to create a full night of family entertainment. There are booths and amusements for kids to enjoy before the show, as well as refreshments that can be purchased both ahead of time and at intermission. Remember to bring a blanket and pillows along with some bug spray, and be sure to arrive early to pick out a good spot on the hillside.


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See how artists will light up Waller Creek this year

The Waller Creek Conservancy has announced its 2017 line-up for the light-based  “Creek Show.” Now in its fourth year, the jam of artworks employs the spacey spaces of the creek bed and banks to illuminate its potential as a destination park. The family-friendly sequence will run Nov. 10-18.

The six planned light shows for 2017. Contributed by Waller Creek Conservancy

Here go the artists and their planned art:

“No Lifeguard on Duty” by Asakura Robinson

“Fotan Fable” by HA Architecture

“Night Garden” by dwg

“Ephemeral Suspension” by Pathos + TouchTo

“Blind Spot” by Two+ Collaborative

“Submerge” by Davey McEarthron Architecture + Studio Lumina + Drophouse

RELATED: Creek Show preview 2016.

What to hear at the Austin Symphony next season

There’s no other way to present the 2017-2018 season of the Austin Symphony without publishing the list in its entirety. Or close to that.

There’s a lot on here to celebrate, including the return of Austin’s top concert pianist, Anton Nel, to the marquee; another stab at “Beyond the Score,” this time dramatizing the background behind Prokofiev‘s Symphony No. 5; and the beginnings of the Bernstein at 100 celebration.



September 8-9, 2017

Anton Nel, piano/harpsichord

FRANCIS POULENC – Suite from Les biches (The Does)
W. A. MOZART – Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-Flat Major, K. 450
FRANCIS POULENC – Concert champêtre for Harpsichord and Orchestra
W. A. MOZART – Symphony No. 31 in D Major, K. 297 Paris

October 6-7, 2017

Bruce Williams, viola
Julia Taylor, soprano
Claudia Chapa, mezzo-soprano
Brian Yeakley, tenor
Charles Evans, baritone
Chorus Austin (Ryan Heller, director)

BEETHOVEN/BRUCKNER – Piano Sonata in C Minor, Op. 13, Pathétique
MAHLER/BRITTEN – What the Wild Flowers Tell Me

December 1-2, 2017

Beyond the Score®

SERGEI PROKOFIEV – Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100

January 12-13, 2018

Bella Hristova, violin

GIOACHINO ROSSINI – Overture to Semiramide
J. S. BACH – Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. in G Major, BWV 1048
IGOR STRAVINSKY – Violin Concerto in D Major
ALAN HOVHANESS – Celestial Fantasy, Op. 44
JOSEPH HAYDN – Symphony No. 94 in G Major, Surprise

February 23-24, 2018

Rick Rowley, piano

ROBERT SCHUMANN – Manfred Overture
EDWARD MACDOWELL – Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 23
ROBERT SCHUMANN – Symphony No. 2. in C Major, Op. 61

March 23-24, 2018
Cameron Carpenter, organ

JOSEPH JONGEN – Symphonie concertante for Organ and Orchestra
CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS – Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78 Organ

April 13-14, 2018
Vadim Gluzman, violin

MICHAEL TORKE – Bright Blue Music
LEONARD BERNSTEIN – Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium)
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN – Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67

May 18-19, 2018
Olga Kern, piano

TCHAIKOVSKY/STRAVINSKY – Pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY – Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Op. 44
SERGEI RACHMANINOFF – Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 44

Friday, October 20, 2017

Disney FANTASIA: Live in Concert

Disney shares one of its crown jewels of feature animation with a live orchestra concert accompanying scenes from Walt Disney’s original FANTASIA (1940) and Disney FANTASIA 2000, highlighting a selection of the magnificent repertoire from both films including Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite.

December 29-30, 2017

I Heart the 80’s

Come have the time of your life with music from The Police, George Michael, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and so much more! Bring your favorite food dish and enjoy this concert in a cabaret style setting.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Jurassic Park – Film with Orchestra

One of the most thrilling science fiction adventures ever made, and featuring one of John Williams’ most iconic and beloved musical scores, Jurassic Park transformed the movie-going experience for an entire generation and became the highest-grossing film of all time in 1993, winning three Academy Awards®. Now audiences can experience this ground-breaking film as never before: projected in HD with a full symphony orchestra performing Williams’ magnificent score live to picture. Welcome… to Jurassic Park!

June 1-2, 2018

The Rat Pack! 100 Years of Frank!

It’s hot! It’s cool! These performances celebrate the classic songs of Sinatra, Davis, and Martin, like “That’s Amore,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “Mr. Bojangles,” “My Way,” and of course, “New York, New York” with brand new orchestrations. Choreographed and scripted with original Rat Pack routines, you’ll think you’re swingin’ at the Sands Hotel in Vegas. Bring your favorite food dish and enjoy this concert in a cabaret style setting.


  • Halloween Children’s Concert – October 29, 2017
  • Christmas in the Community – TBD
  • Texas Young Composers Concert – TBD


  • Handel’s Messiah – December 12, 2017

Nine days left for free admission to Umlauf Sculpture Garden

Thanks to its fundraising efforts during the citywide Amplify Austin campaign, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum is offering free admission — but just through Aug. 31.

Next to Zilker Park, the museum’s six-acre grounds and exhibit pavilion have dozens of sculptures made by Charles Umlauf, the late modernist artist and University of Texas art professor

For a special exhibit, Umlauf museum curators have re-created the artist’s studio in the museum gallery:, “Studio in the Museum: An Interactive Recreation of Charles Umlauf’s Studio”

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, 605 Robert E. Lee Road

And check out the Austin360 interactive map of arts and culture museums.


Lotus, 1960, bronze Among the most popular sculptures in the Garden, Lotus (the Egyptian goddess of fertility) was modeled after a hippopotamus in the San Antonio Zoo.
“Lotus,” 1960, bronze
Among the most popular sculptures in the Umlauf Garden, Lotus (the Egyptian goddess of fertility) was modeled after a hippopotamus in the San Antonio Zoo.

Review: Pollyanna Theatre’s “Sarah the Dinosaur” at the Long Center

When we first see Sarah from Pollyanna Theatre Company’s “Sarah the Dinosaur,” she is meek. The second-grader and her class are visiting a museum and all the other kids pair up and are having a fine time. She is left out.

"Sarah the Dinosaur" is at the Long Center through Sunday.
“Sarah the Dinosaur” is at the Long Center through Sunday.

When we last see Sarah, she has found her voice and learned how to use it appropriately, and has learned a lot of cool things about dinosaurs.

The production at the Long Center is designed for preschoolers and early elementary-school children. It was written by Kathleen Fletcher and Andrew Perry, and five actors play all the characters from students and teachers to family members and dinosaurs.

In this production, you get to see a little bit of how theater is made as you watch a stagehand or the actors move the sets to turn a museum into a home, school yard or classroom. You also watch a table turn into a bed. It’s a great entry into theater for children who have never seen a live production.

“Sarah the Dinosaur” is also insight into a young girl’s mind. As Sarah played by Uyen-Anh Dang reads a dinosaurs book, dinosaurs appear on the stage and act how she might imagine. They do the hula, they fly like an airplane, they go to the grocery store for a steak. It reminds kids that imagination and creativity are good.

Some of the performances are over-the-top, especially from the dinosaurs, which made the audience giggle. However, there a disconnect between how the children act and the idea that they are second-graders. Some of their behavior makes them feel more like preschoolers, yet they are reading and writing.

The mother is a 1950s housewife stereotype with a robe and hair rollers. All she’s missing is the dangling cigarette. The teacher is like no elementary school teacher I know. She’s unobservant and unprofessional. She definitely doesn’t have control of this classroom. She has a good heart, though.

The obnoxious kids and the dumbed-down adults remind of the shows on the Disney Channel that present an idea that parents are always stupid and children can get attention for being  obnoxious.

“Sarah” definitely sends a message that is worth seeing: Growing up is not just about getting bigger; it’s about growing on the inside by admitting when you are wrong and learning how to find your voice.

Summer can be a hard time to find good theater for kids to see. This summer, we’ve been lucky: “Inside Out” is in movie theaters and “Sarah the Dinosaur” is on stage. Think of them as companion pieces to the lesson of growing up and dealing with emotions.

Pollyanna Theatre Co.presents “Sarah the Dinosaur.”

When: 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m. Saturday.

Where: The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive.

Tickets: $11-$15.50.

Information: thelongcenter.org.

Read about past Pollyanna Theatre productions here, here and here.

Theater Review: “Ashes, Ashes” at Scottish Rite Theater

Nini (Katy Smaczniak) must recite the town’s history to Stop Watch (Megan Ortiz) and History Book (Kathy Blackbird) in “Ashes, Ashes” at Scottish Rite Theater.
Nini (Katy Smaczniak) must recite the town’s history to Stop Watch (Megan Ortiz) and History Book (Kathy Blackbird) in “Ashes, Ashes” at Scottish Rite Theater.

Out of darkness comes the seed of a beautiful flower. That’s what happens in Scottish Rite Theater’s production of “Ashes, Ashes,” but you have to be be surrounded by dark to get the flower at the end.

The story, written by Even Tulbert, a University of Texas alum with a master’s in fine arts for theater and dance and theater for youth, won Tulbert a Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences playwriting award.

The cautionary tale about what could happen in an over-industrialized world is beautifully written and well-performed, but you should know what you’re getting before attending and determine if your child will handle some scary imagery. The lights go out, the theater is dimly lighted in parts and there are nightmares about. The humor that is sprinkled throughout and the sweet moments between a mother and daughter, help this play from going too dark, but it is dark nonetheless.

Nini (Katy Smaczniak) holds her mother (Laura Freeman) as ash monsters surround her.
Nini (Katy Smaczniak) holds her mother (Laura Freeman) as ash monsters surround her.

In this dystopian world, everything runs on time, and that’s very important because it’s been years since the town has seen the sun through the clouds of thick industrial ash. One woman, who runs the town, is in charge of the on/off button, which creates day and night through artificial light. The whole town works at a factory, including Nini’s father. Her mother, Rosa, is too sick from the ash to be able to work anymore.

Nini (played well by Katy Smaczniak) has frequent nightmares as ash-covered people invade her dreams and she hears people talking hauntingly. The ash-covered people, who appear on stage as part of the scenery from the opening, could be particularly scary for the youngest members of the audience. They come to life and surround Nini as she is sleeping.

Nini goes to school and notices that her classmate, Edward, is missing. The Stop Watch (Megan Ortiz) and the History Book (Kathy Blackbird) erase her memory of his name after he’s “disintegrated.” We’re quite sure what is going on except that now Nini, the only kid at school, will have to recite the town history instead of Edward. The history song is very cheery and doesn’t make mention of ash, which is all over this world. It’s represented in piles and piles of gray strips of fabric that cover the stage and the stairs to the stage.

When Nini’s mother gets very sick and disintegrates, the Stop Watch and the History Book come to the home to erase Nini and her father’s memories of Rosa.

Nini is very upset and looking for answers. She runs away and down into the big coal hole, where she’s seen the Stop Watch and History Book throw names written on pieces of fabric to erase them. Sometimes they are names of people, sometimes they are names of plants or trees.

In the depths of the coal hole, she meets a mysterious woman who is wearing a coat made of all the names that have been lost. She gives Nini a recipe to recovering her mother’s name that includes making water come through stone, separating seed from ash, watering the seed and finding the sun to shine on the seed.

Nini starts her journey to complete these tasks that don’t seem to make any sense. In the end, she is able to return to the surface to regrow the memories in the form of flowers that are in stark contrast to the harsh, industrial world in which she lives.

“Ashes, Ashes” is a cautionary tale about protecting the environment, and kids in the audience understand that. The audience was mainly quite during this hour-long show, and afterwards, I heard parents ask their children if they liked it. It brought up discussions about ash and dust and growing flowers. It isn’t a show that your child is going to stand up and applaud loudly afterward. This is a show that will leave them thinking, enjoying it, but thinking. It’s best for elementary school-aged kids.

Aside from the acting, which was well-done, the sets, the lighting and sound really are part of the action and help you become fully immersed in this world.

There are some very cool features of seeing a show at Scottish Rite Theater. First, your kids are seeing theater in 140-year-old building. How often are kids in Austin surrounded by history like that? Second, they and you can sit on the carpet on the floor or choose your seating. The advantage of the carpet is that theater is all around you as actors enter from behind and from the side. Third, afterwards, you can talk to the actors in the lobby, get them to sign your program and ask them questions.

“Ashes, Ashes,” 11 a.m. Saturdays through May 23; 2 p.m. Sundays through May 17. $12 adults, $8 children 12 and younger. Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th St. scottishritetheater.org.