If you thought the Tin Woodsman and flying monkeys of The Wizard of Oz were strange, you don't know the half of it. L. Frank Baum wrote 12 other books set in Oz, elaborating his own personal mythology to include animated sawhorses, a human-sized insect with a professorial degree, and even a man made up of all the parts that the Tin Woodsman chopped off of himself. He also added a couple of "special rules" to the Land of Oz that made it unique: No one ever aged, and no one ever died.
Time Again in Oz
Seattle Children's Theater till February 5
While the new musical Time Again in Oz is only occasionally related to its source material (chiefly Ozma of Oz, the third of the books), its obsession with time and aging is entirely faithful to Baum's imagination. As reimagined by Suzan L. Zeder, Dorothy Gale (Beth DeVries) is not at all interested in going back to the land of the Munchkins. In fact, she's not even happy to be on her way to the other "Oz," Australia, in the company of her aged Uncle Henry (Allen Galli) and his prize hen. So her initial frustration at being swept up by a waterspout and deposited again on the magical shores is understandable: She's a 12-year-old, for gosh sakes, and there's something a little childish about witches, talking animals, and such marvels as trees that grow lunch boxes or the spoke-limbed Wheelers.
But to Oz has a new menace, the sinister Gnome King Roquat (Robert Shampain), and Dorothy unwittingly stumbles across the one thing he wants most, the mechanical man Tic-Toc (Mark Anders), whose wheels and gears control time. Trapped by the evil queen Langwidere (Anna Lauris), who wants to add Dorothy's head to her collection of interchangeable noggins, Dorothy seeks an escape by turning time backwards. She soon learns what a dangerous substance it is to meddle with.
Zeder's clever riff on Baum's original works is greatly enhanced by the music of Richard Gray, which has a pristine, turn-of-the-century sound to it that fits the material perfectly. His lyrics are blissfully clever, particularly in Langwidere's hymn to human vanity (complete with a chorus of her extra heads) and the Gnome King's affronted catalog of the sins of the surface dwellers against his subterranean realm. And the play's obsession with time, the fear and glorious surprises of aging and mortality, is an adult subject that's rendered particularly accessible for children. Susan Tsu's inventive costume design and the storybook sets of Carey Wong are both a superb homage to the famous illustrations of John R. Neill and filled with plenty of their own innovations.