As a former Walt Disney World puppeteer, reviewing The Wizard of Oz, as presented by the Puppet Co. in Glen Echo Park, was a welcome task. My daughters and I found this theater and its performers delivering old-fashioned family entertainment at its most charming. The cast includes Christopher Piper, Nora Achrati, Eric Brooks, and Allan Stevens, all of whom have a way with engaging children ala ‘Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.’ The theater itself is the brainchild of founders Christopher Piper and Allan Stevens.
The locale is beautiful and inviting. Tucked into the idyllic setting of Glen Echo Park with its lush greenery, we discovered a playground of family-geared nature, cultural, and arts facilities. It offers slightly tiered open floor seating, giving the little ones lots of room to stretch, as well as soft benches that line the walls for those who prefer a seat. The cool and dimly lit venue was the perfect space to curl up on a 95 degree summer afternoon
We were warmly greeted by business manager Mayfield Piper and from the moment we entered were transported back to an early 1900’s State Fair setting. The show, which was adapted from the book by L. Frank Baum, follows a little girl separated from her parents at the fair. As the lost little girl’s parents are located, fair workers entertain and distract the girl with the classic tale of the quest to find the Wizard.
The story within a story plays out with great skill and talent, as the performers are both puppeteers and characters within the play. Plenty of “punny” humor is sprinkled throughout the production, for instance, when offered a bit of corn to eat, the Scarecrow announces, “No thanks… I’m stuffed!”
The all ages crowd is kept entranced and lively by colorful puppets of all kinds, marionette, finger, shadow, and more. There are even a few delightful musical numbers added in. I was very impressed to learn these are original pieces written by Christopher Piper and Eric Brooks.
“There’s no place like home” is the obvious moral to the story here, but in this production “everything happens for a reason” is also the message to take with you. Before being reunited with Auntie Em, Dorothy realizes that although her journey to Oz was fraught with difficulties, she never would have helped her friends fulfill their life’s dream had she not gone.
Allan Stevens, director and designer of set and costumes, does wonderful work.. The stage seems deceivingly simple, but as the story of Dorothy and her iconic friends unfolds, it reveals several versatile tricks up its sleeve. The audio volume is just right, allowing for the sweet chatter of little audience members and even the occasional cry, without disruption. The lighting design of Dan Brooks displayed great use of color and spotlighting to enhance the storyline.
I found it refreshing to find such artsy and high caliber children’s entertainment for a generation used to 3D movies and high action video games. It was a pleasure to see families relaxed and cuddling while getting such a fabulous dose of a beautiful art form. My three daughters and I traveled over an hour to catch this fantastic production. Now that we have discovered the treasure that is The Puppet Co, we plan on returning for every show.
The Wizard of Oz plays through September 9th at The Puppet Co. – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo Park, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call the box office (301) 634-5380, or purchase them online.