If you think you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, think again. This weekend only, The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati is presenting The Frisch Marionettes The Wizard of Oz, and this is one trip down the Yellow Brick Road you need to take!
If you’re unfamiliar with The Frisch Marionettes, they’re the creation of Kevin Frisch. Marionette puppetry is a true work of art; each doll is the product of 40+ hours of work, extensive research and exquisite craftsmanship.
Marionette puppet theatre is also a different kind of theatre experience; performers generally play many different characters during the play, and also wear many different hats (stage technician, director, etc.). Frisch says operating the marionette is a bit like “playing a musical instrument […] I often refer to the marionette as a wooden stringed instrument, but we must emote through movement through the strings rather than sound. Marionettes are unique, but they seem to borrow from all of the arts to some degree.”
As for The Frisch Marionettes The Wizard of Oz, you’ll notice some key differences from the MGM classic. For one, the music. “We approached The Wizard of OZ as an American fairytale and wanted to also pay tribute to America’s rich musical heritage,” explains Frisch. “Most of the music you will hear in the Frisch version is designed to parallel the lineage of America’s musical cultural development as the story progresses. Some musical styles you will hear include: The Spiritual sung by Aunt Em, the Blues sung in variation by the Straw man, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, Ragtime as Dorothy and friends travel down the Yellow Brick Road, Dixie-jazz sung by the Wicked Witch of the West and the Funky metropolitan sounds of the Great OZ.”
And – Dorothy and her family are black. This retelling of The Wizard of Oz is a nod to American history — the Marionettes’ Kansas is a real place called Nicodemus. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, freed Americans found a safe haven in Kansas, and Nicodemus is the only remaining settlement of the “Exoduster Movement” that touted Kansas as the promised land. “Kansas represents hope and a new life for Uncle Henry and Aunt Em,” says Frisch, “but Dorothy longs for something more. This is a story about ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’ and unlocking the potential that exists within each of us!”
I was lucky enough to get an up-close look at the world of The Wizard of Oz this week, and I can say that it’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Kevin Frisch’s puppets are uncanny; the details on each of their faces and the way that they move is magnificent. With marionettes, there’s a meta quality to the performance that’s really cool. You are simultaneously admiring the puppets and set design, while also really getting into the story.
Kids will love this show; the story is familiar to them which will make the puppet performance more accessible. The effects with the tornado and supernatural Witch’s lair are incredible to see; this production is truly a masterpiece of the imagination. Frisch moves the puppets with ease and you really do forget that what you’re seeing is the work of one person.
The Frisch Marionettes The Wizard of OZ runs this weekend only, Sept. 14-16 at The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati, 4015 Red Bank Road, Cincinnati, OH 45227. This show is ideal for children ages 4+. Following each performance, your kids will get to learn more about the art of puppetry during an after-show talk with Kevin Frisch. I’ve heard the 11 am show tomorrow (Sept. 14) has lots of seats if you want to take your preschooler for a day date!
Tickets are $15 each (plus service fee) and are available exclusively through ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000.