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PRESS/REVIEWS

The performances displayed here are nothing short of magical, and our friends at freeFall Theatre under expert Direction from freeFall Artistic Director Eric Davis, and Musical Direction by Michael Raabe, have created a magical retelling of the life of a beloved children’s literary genius. Placing their stamp once again on the bay area, and remaining on the cutting-edge of uniquely freeFall Programming that in turn keeps audiences coming back for more, season after season and simply “Escaping...”

Their production of OZ: A New Musical pulls out all the stops, and it’s a thrilling and magical world premiere.

As Frank, David Foley, Jr. is marvelous in both stage presence and vocal ability. He’s perfectly cast as our dreamer, and at the same time you feel his need to be able to provide for his family no matter the cost. His vocals during “Man Behind the Curtain” which comes later in the show is unmatched here... a breathtaking performance that needs to be experienced.

As Frank’s wife Maud, Melissa Minyard is sensational. Her vocal strengths shine to new heights here, and the moments between her and Roxanne Fay’s Matilda, are perfect in telling the relationship between mother and daughter. Maud is steadfast and loyal to her husband, and wants all his dreams to come true. Her moments especially in “He Tells Stories,” and “Mother, Sister, Friend,” are pure standouts of the evening.

Drew H. Wells, as Ken is young and full of life. Energy bursts at the seams every time he steps into the story, and his vocal strengths are top-notch. He also portrays the Scarecrow and Tin Man in a couple moments of the piece. “Not There" (Brain), is great fun and “Not There" (Heart), are both highlights of his performance.

Area favorite, Roxanne Fay is wonderful here as Matilda Joslyn Gage.  Roxanne’s performance is as mesmerizing as it is heartbreaking. Her moments in “Mother, Sister, Friend,” with Maud is a beautiful portrayal of Mother/Daughter relationships... a truly stunning performance to witness.

As Dorothy, Elizabeth Meckler is full of heart. “A Place Called Oz,” is a true finale moment, and show-stopping in every way. Her portrayal of such an iconic character is lifted to new heights here. What a wonderful moment to step into such an iconic character in a brand-new musical. That must have been the feeling Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel first had when stepping into Wicked for the very first time. New works brimming at the surface, waiting to be seen, is an exciting time not only for those taking on the roles, but also those in the developmental roles as well.  She has a spark of innocence about her and her stage presence shines through in every moment, and beautiful vocals to match, makes this a knockout portrayal.

From production, to design elements, to the makings of this beautiful tale can only be something in the unique and capable hands of Eric Davis and Michael Raabe. As freeFall’s Artistic Director, Eric Davis always wears many hats, and this is no exception. Not only did he write the book and lyrics for this brand new musical, but also added his expertise in areas of sound, props, and puppet design.  When I say Davis and his team pulled out all the stops, there was never a more true statement said. As Music Director, both for this show and in residence, Michael Raabe also wrote the composition and lyrics for this new staging. From overture to the final note, Michael takes the audience on a beautiful journey that stirs the soul and breathes new life into this classic story. Always a buzz with genius ideas, Michael Raabe is a master of his craft and the team work solidified between Davis and himself is a pure work of Theatrical genius and magic, which culminated to the show being presented onstage, and one that will live in our hearts and memories for time to come.

- Drew Eberhard (Broadwayworld.com)

This captivating COVID-delayed new chamber musical by freeFall’s talented stalwarts, Michael Raabe (music & lyrics) and Eric Davis (book & lyrics) is an unmitigated joy as it explores Baum’s conflicted impulses. Davis’s whip smart book moves briskly to connect the melodious 18-song score, often using fan letters accompanying projected portraits of porcelain doll-faced children who alternately gush, cajole, and finally, beg Baum not to abandon his “Oz” series. 
Raabe has shown over the years as freeFall’s resident musical director that he’s a master arranger with a comprehensive knowledge of American Songbook standards, most of which arise from the Golden Age of Broadway which began in 1943 with “Oklahoma” (when show tunes were also top 40) until they were ultimately supplanted in the late-1960s when rock and roll elbowed Broadway off the radio. 
This delightful, tuneful score calls upon all these old school styles. The terrific musicians begin with a catchy vamp as we’re invited “let’s go on an adventure,” and the entire five-person company takes us off to the races for a sweeping 15-minute plus Sondheimesque opening sequence, “In Other Lands Than Ours.” We’re transported past a gyrating mini-farmhouse to Egypt and the Nile complete with pith helmets and a quartet of chairs which transform as a walkway to the Sphinx. Suddenly, we’re red hot with an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, then spinning across the Parisian skyline with a panoramic monochrome of a dancing Eiffel Tower, and ultimately gazing upon Lady Liberty craving to “put something in the world that wasn’t there before.” 
Set designer Tom Hansen provides a three quarter round playing surface. Upstage is a diaphanous floor-to-ceiling curtain with luxurious fullness. To our right, stairs lead up to Baum’s desk flanked by two columns. Sconces and a turned spindle balustrade complete the inner sanctum of his emerald colored walls. Downstage of the curtain are two tall windows topped with dark wood crown molding. While they initially seem to be composed of hundreds of leaded stained-glass Victorian diamonds, the windows are actually projection screens for Davis’s unfettered imagination. He’s proven a master at using projections to transport audiences and here he excels again. Often, still black and white images evoke time and place, but he also uses moving color imagery to great effect heightening the emotional impact of the Act 1 finale and allowing Frank thrillingly to confront his inner self in “Man Behind the Curtain” while evoking the Wizard from the iconic 1939 film. Completing the dazzling visuals, is lighting designer Dalton Hamilton, who uses every texture and color over the rainbow. 

The superb cast, led by the stellar David Foley, Jr. as the unabashed dreamer Baum, all shine—individually and collectively. Apart from Foley, the rest of the cast plays multiple characters with grace and ease. Melissa Minyard, so splendid in freeFall’s “Light in the Piazza” and “End of the Rainbow,” still shines as the less showy Maud, Baum’s wife. From the jaunty “Mr. Baum,” the rapturous “He Tells Stories,” to the touching ballad “Mother, Sister, Friend,” her clarion soprano and subtle acting touch your heart. 
Elizabeth L. Meckler gets to embody the sweet, optimistic Dorothy we’ve come to know from Judy Garland, but she really shines as “Miss Cuttenclip” where the cast makes giant paper dolls in an energetic number that’s part Russian kalinka, part “Officer Krupke.” 
Davis cleverly uses the ever versatile Roxanne Fay as Baum’s mother-in-law, the suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage. She appears in a cloud of smoke from the “astral plane” as a mouthpiece for some pithy political observations for modern audiences—seems like the fight for women's rights and the separation of church and state never goes away. Fay also leads the company in “Believe It, or Not,” which begins as a charming soft shoe before morphing uptempo. In addition, Fay’s versatility in several well wrought cameos seems effortless. 
Charming newcomer Drew H. Wells appears as numerous characters, including Baum’s son, but also in thrilling tight harmony duets with Foley as “Oz” illustrator, W.W. Denslow (“On the Same Page”), and the iconic Scarecrow (“Not There: Brain”). 
Wig designer Michelle Hart has styled “Gibson girl” silhouettes which instantly transport viewers back to fin-de-siècle America. Combined with David Covach’s incisively detailed costumes, Davis and his actors conjure a smock-wearing painter sporting an oversized striped bow along the Seine, giant flowers giddy with huge red petal collars or the glittering witches, with Maud as Glinda in a sparkling crown that soars two full feet above her brow. 
Birthing a new musical is a Sisyphean endeavor; indeed, the history on the road to Broadway is littered with the carcasses of failed shows even from our most acclaimed practitioners. While freeFall’s “Oz” isn’t a revolutionary creation, it’s absolutely a very successful one. Davis and Raabe’s score entertains as it introduces audiences to the compelling (and generally unknown) narrative of a beloved author’s “shifting sands” of insecurities and struggles. And it leaves us with a clear “idealized and magical” vision: the very wise conclusion that perhaps “what you’re seeking is already inside you.”

- Jon Palmer Claridge (Creative Loafing)

Clicking your heels is optional, but Freefall Theatre’s original show “Oz: A New Musical” will take you on a journey through imagination.  The story is told mainly through the songs, with interesting details about Baum’s life seamlessly woven through the lyrics — with quite a few earworms that buzz around your head days later. It’s a deep dive into a fascinating character in American history.

- Maggie Duffy (Tampa Bay Times)

The show in many ways delights. It has lilting music and lyrics by Michael Raabe and Eric Davis and an expert cast directed with elan by Davis. There are enchanting allusions to familiar Oz characters, a versatile set that makes smart use of projections, and sumptuous period costumes. And Raabe’s masterful musical direction leads an ensemble of guitar, cello, and percussion from the piano.

I love the vaudevillian panache of “On the Same Page,” in which Baum and his longtime illustrator, W.W. Denslow (Wells), sing the joys of collaboration. The three “Not There” numbers suggest the evolution of the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow.

- David Warner (The Gabber)

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Elizabeth Meckler as Dorothy

Photo by Dalton Hamilton

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