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.

MORE SUMMER FUN:

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‘Around the World in 80 Days’ is free fun for the whole family

Penfold in the Park this year will produce “Around the World in 80 Days,” a Jules Verne adventure novel that Penfold Theatre has given a feminine spin. Contributed by Penfold Theatre

Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel “Around the World in Eighty Days” tells the story of British gentleman-turned-adventurer Phileas Fogg as he attempts to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days in order to win a bet. Penfold Theatre’s adaptation of that story (playing, for free, through June 24 at the Round Rock Amphitheater) has turned it into a fun, frenzied, family-friendly outdoor production with a direct message of female empowerment.

In taking on Verne’s novel, director and adapter Emily Rankin has made two decisive choices — to turn the story into a comedy, and to turn the two main characters from men into women. Indeed, the first moments of the play address this very circumstance, with the narrator (played by Megan Sherrod) expecting to introduce Phileas Fogg but finding herself confronted, instead, by Ms. Phyllida Fogg (Jessica Hughes).

Similarly, Phyllida’s valet and sidekick, Passepartout (Eva McQuade), becomes female, while love interest Aouda from the novel becomes Sir Niles Adams (Ryan Crowder). The majority of the narrative still follows much of the same story beats as Verne’s novel, with Phyllida and Passepartout desperately trying to stay on schedule as Detective Fix (Robert Berry) following doggedly behind them, believing that Phyllida has robbed a bank back in London.

With the exception of Hughes, each member of the show’s cast must assume a variety of personalities (particularly Tanuj Potra, credited as playing “everyone else”), often with broad, cartoonish characteristics. Though this constant back-and-forth means that there’s limited development for most of the characters, it plays well to the show’s primary audience of children and families.

“Around the World in 80 Days” is goofy, with sight gags and corny jokes aplenty, and it knows not to take itself too seriously. The show’s set (designed by Chris Conard) and props deliberately evoke laughter rather than striving for verisimilitude, focusing the show’s energy instead on the wackiness of the characters’ misadventures and interactions.

Indeed, the show excels at presenting a fun, engaging romp of an adventure that draws in the younger audience members (sometimes literally, when they are asked to come to the stage and participate as extras). There’s enough metatextual humor and wordplay to keep the older crowd engaged, though, particularly in the humorous asides of McQuade as Passepartout. Meanwhile, Berry, as Detective Fix, is given the biggest opportunity by the script to show his character’s depth, while Hughes commands the stage as a strong, confidant, empowering leading lady.

Penfold Theatre’s “Around the World in 80 Days” is pure charm, designed to delight children while still entertaining their parents. At this, it definitely succeeds.

Around the World in 80 Days
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through June 24
Where: Round Rock Amphitheater, 301 W. Bagdad Ave., Round Rock
Cost: Free
Information: penfoldtheatre.org

Looking for something to do this weekend? Free Fusebox Festival starts today

Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol are part of two Fusebox Festival 2017 presentations. Contributed by MgV

The free Fusebox Festival — an eclectic celebration of art in its many forms — opens today and runs through Sunday at venues throughout Austin. As Michael Barnes explained in his preview, the festival isn’t just about artists showing off their creative endeavors; it also “urges them to engage with their audiences around the big ideas of the day,” such as the border and community health.

But new approaches to making art are at the heart of the festival as well — as evidenced by Line Upon Line’s “Potential,” a series of performances combining percussion, dance and lighting at the top of Mansfield Dam later this week.

PHOTOS: Hybrid Austin event Fusebox Festival tackles big ideas through art

Here are three top picks from among the Fusebox events from our preview story:

“Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance,” April 14-15, Stateside at the Paramount Theatre

This is one we have been anticipating for a long time. A chamber opera composed by Graham Reynolds, it was conceived and executed in collaboration with Rude Mechs director Shawn Sides and the Mexican theater collective Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, which contributed the libretto. Using the biography of Pancho Villa, it plays with the culture and politics of West Texas through the eyes of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

Bonus: Additional lyrics by poet and novelist Carrie Fountain.

“The score is part chamber suite, part rock opera and part cinematic soundscape,” Fusebox founder Ron Berry says. “The influences run from Chavela Vargas and Los Tigres del Norte to Shostakovich and Bartok to the Los Lobos offshoot the Latin Playboys.”

“Meeting,” April 12-16, Scottish Rite Theater

In this piece from Australians Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe, two performers interact with 64 robotic percussion instruments. Hamilton provides the irresistible movement, Macindoe the machine sounds.

Bonus: You have five chances to catch this 50-minute marvel.

“Technically, the dancers are ridiculously talented and rigorous,” Berry says. “The influences range from ballet to hip-hop and breakdancing, particularly popping. Conceptually, the piece is super tight. They take a particular idea and go very deep with it, which I really appreciate and enjoy.”

Al Volta’s Midnight Bar, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. April 12-16, Saengerrunde Halle

“Al Volta’s is especially exciting because it’s a super fun pop-up bar,” Berry says. “The food will be changing every night. It’s also an opportunity to meet other audience members, artists and arts professionals from all over the world. The artistic programming is some of the most fun and diverse in the festival.”

Why sit or stand around with the artists in an old German bowling alley?

“Let’s dissolve that barrier between audience, artist and art!” Berry says. “Let’s all hang out together and talk about the world. And then we combine this with our own love of bars. I spend a lot of time in bars, turns out. Occupational hazard. But I do love a good bar.”

 

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
umlaufsculpture.org

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.

Umlauf Museum offers free admission all summer

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

Umlauf Sculpture Garden. Alberto Martínez AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Umlauf Sculpture Garden. Alberto Martínez AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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

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

A pair of built-in vignettes of original tools, workbench, drafting table, sculpture stands and artwork pulled directly from Umlauf’s actual studio anchor the display. Interactive areas offer visitors the chance to try out their sculpting skills and create a portrait of Charles Umlauf in clay.

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
umlaufsculpture.org

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

 

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