Review: “Bright Now Beyond”
The Land of Oz towers in our collective imagination as a magical place ripe with possibilities. We envision the glittering Emerald City and the shimmering yellow brick road, we hear the voices of the munchkins and the click of the ruby slippers.
But decades after Dorothy’s journey, Oz has turned into a dusty, parched place, a hollow remnant of its former self.
“Bright Now Beyond,” an original musical by Daniel Alexander Jones and Bobby Halvorson, dives into the heart of this new Oz and explores what happens next. The show, based on L. Frank Baum’s book The Marvelous Land of Oz, runs at Salvage Vanguard Theater through Aug. 23 and is creatively directed by Will Davis.
It follows the journey of a young boy named Tip (Jacques Colimon), who lives with a menacing sorceress named Mombi (Florinda Bryant). When Mombi threatens to kill Tip, he flees along with a new friend, Jack Pumpkinhead (Daniel Alexander Jones as his character Jomama Jones, that is).
Tip’s journey intersects with a rebellion against the Scarecrow King (Robert Faires) by a fierce girl army, led by the charismatic General Jinjur (Cami Alys). In the search to find Glinda the good witch (Carla Nickerson), Tip learns a shocking secret that will change his life, and the Land of Oz, forever.
The ensemble is uniformly strong. Colimon gives a particularly poignant performance as Tip, bringing the perfect combination of innocence and strength to the role. Florinda Bryant commands the stage as the evil witch Mombi, and Cami Alys brings a furious intensity to General Jinjur.
A live eight-musician ensemble, directed by Peter Stopschinski, underscores the musical numbers. Bobby Halvorson’s compositions are haunting and surprising. The notes are dissonant, the sound always slightly out of tune. Lyrics convey essential information, especially in a memorable song about the dangers of power. Some performers’ voices are more polished, while others have a rawness that works with the aesthetic of the show.
The show is highly theatrical, making use of shadow puppetry and borrowing from the look and feel of vaudeville. The extensive use of curtains gives the audience the feeling of intruding on a dream.
For a work based on a novel written over a hundred years ago, the show feels surprisingly modern and takes on topical issues such as wealth inequality, feminism and even gender identity. While telling the tale of a wild and weird world populated by strange creatures, Jones and Halvorson manage to ask essential questions, including: What are we willing to sacrifice to make change in our world?
“Bright Now Beyond” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Aug. 23. Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 E Manor Road. $15-$20. http://www.salvagevanguard.org.