Go See The Yellow Brick Road: A New Latin Take on the Old Oz Tale
To say I'm a fan of Oz is putting it mildly. I have an entire collection of Wizard of Oz dolls, trinkets and merchandise. (It's currently in my daughter's room... but she knows it's all mine.)
Over the years there have been many new takes on L. Frank Baum's fantastical world and characters, and I've tried to see them all. Some are amazing (Wicked on Broadway), some not so much (the miniseries Tin Man, ugh). So when I heard Theatreworks USA was mounting a Latin-themed kids' musical based on Oz, I was cautiously excited. Would my daughter and I be enchanted by our journey down The Yellow Brick Road or would we end up wishing we were home, just like Dorothy?
The verdict: The Yellow Brick Road is smart and sassy, with wonderful salsa- and meringue-infused pop songs. And, unlike The Wiz, the multiculturalism presented here is progressive and positive. Bonus: The hour-long show is absolutely free. We've got the scoop on the show and how to snag tickets.
For the past 23 years, nonprofit company Theatreworks USA has presented free summer musicals to New York City families. They're usually based on famous books (past hits include adaptations of Junie B. Jones and Click, Clack, Moo!) and always boast professional casts and creators. In other words, they're not rinky-dink kids' shows.
In The Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy is now Dora (Virginia Cavaliere), a surly, urban, Hispanic-American 15-year-old who's reluctantly preparing for her Quinceañera (the Latin equivalent of a sweet sixteen or Bat Mitzvah, take your pick). But when a creepy old woman crashes the party, Dora's magically transported to Oz. There, she befriends a tongue-tied Scarecrow (Ryan Duncan), a flavor-challenged Iron Chef (Frank Viveros) and a drama queen of a Mountain Lion (Cedric Leiba Jr.), and clashes with an evil Witch (Natalie Toro) with a wicked wardrobe, as she tries to find herself and her way home.
The musical hews closely to the iconic story, although like the famous 1939 movie, the book's darkness has been tempered. What makes this production shine are Tommy Newman and Jaime Lozano's catchy, often bilingual songs ("Yellow Brick Road" and the "Defying Gravity"-sounding "Powerless" are standouts), and all of the Latin details that give the story spice. Dora's dog is a Chihuahua, the Scarecrow is desperate to learn English, the Lion yearns to be macho, the Wizard (Lexi Rhoades) is a disco diva and the Ruby Slippers are bedazzled salsa heels. No wonder Dora defeats the Witch in a climactic dance-off!
Writing this, I realize some of these changes may sound cheesy or worse, offensive. But in context, they really work and Latino culture is consistently presented in a loving way. (Full disclosure: My husband's Puerto Rican, so I do my best to be sensitive to these things.)
Although it's officially recommended for kids ages seven and up, I brought my six-year-old and I saw many children much younger. If your preschooler is a fan of Oz and knows how to behave at the theater, you should be good to go.
You're probably thinking, sounds great! But it's free so what's the catch? There's only one: Tickets are first come, first served, and are distributed beginning one hour prior to the first performance of the day. Weekend shows are busy, but I've heard that weekday performances are often filled with campers. So your best bet is to arrive early and prepare for potential disappointment. (We've seen parents get very uppity in the past. A nasty attitude won't magically translate into tickets!) Also, no strollers are allowed in the theater. (Once, years ago, I brought one and ended up having to tip the doorman at a nearby bar $5 to watch it for me.)
The Yellow Brick Road is playing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre through August 19. Click here for the schedule. Tickets are free!