Jersey City Theater Center Presents The Wizard Of Oz

Last weekend we went to see The Wizard of Oz by Puppetworks & JCTC. It was the second time we’ve been to a Puppetworks show – the first was Beauty and the Beast – and both times we’ve left the theater impressed and excited by the experience.

Here’s a couple things to know about the show:

It’s an all ages show. The show was as good for Lyndon and I as it was for the kids. My kids are three and four (both boys) and they were able to sit, captivated, through the entire show. (Which is basically a miracle.)

It’s not the Disney version. Know that going in, and manage your expectations. Puppetworks creates scripts based on the original stories – so you won’t see  the Lollipop Kids, the Gatekeeper at the Emerald City, or even (how dare you) red shoes. Dorothy doesn’t break into “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” but I have included the video in the link so you can get that out of your system before you show up.

Marionettes are amazing. Executive Director and puppeteer Mike Leach has been working with these beautiful stringed creations for decades – and it shows. He animates them to life. And this show surprises you with marionettes that aren’t traditional characters. During the tornado scene, for example, the house was on strings. It rumbled and crashed around the stage while the audience gasped with delight and whispered “WOW” to their seatmates.

Mike Leach begins the show (and every show like it for the past 26 years – he says he’s given this speech maybe 18,000 times) with a presentation that educates the audience on etiquette and the magic of the theater. To me, this is the most important part. “A theater is a special place,” he tells them. Leach comes out in front of the curtain with a puppet he calls Nikolo to show the kids how the strings work. “It’s like a musical instrument,” he says, “it has 9-13 strings.”

He talks about reactions, “which can include laughing and clapping,” and he tells them about moving around or chatting, “which we don’t do, because a theater is a shared experience and we want everyone to be able to enjoy it.”

The pre-show presentation sets the tone in such an easy and seamless way that I had to ask him about it. “Would the kids be as well behaved if you didn’t do that?”

“No way,” he said. “But it’s not just for the kids. The adults need it too. These shows are geared for all ages, and the kids follow the lead. They laugh when the adults laugh, and clap when the adults clap.”

“And also,” Leach continued,” I want the audience to know that what we’re doing here is not magic, because ten years from now I want to retire, and some of these kids are going to have to pick up where I left off.”

The Wizard of Oz runs Sunday afternoons through May 28 at Merseles Studios (339 Newark Avenue). Tickets are available here and often sell out, so try to purchase tickets in advance.

All Photographs by Bang Chau/Courtesy of Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC)

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Mel Kozakiewicz a professor, editor, writer, and mother of two.

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