PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Over the Rainbow: “Wizard of Oz” Rocks at ACT

By Barry Willis

The Emerald City meets Beach Blanket Babylon in ACT’s gloriously goofy The Wizard of Oz, running through June 25.

The wild production adheres closely to the beloved original, including story and songs, but it’s as far removed from a 1940s Saturday afternoon movie matinee as you can imagine—a hilariously gender-bending extravaganza just perfect for Pride Month in San Francisco.

…ACT’s Wizard of Oz is an amazing and marvelous spectacle…

With her brilliantly-conceived puppet dog Toto never far away, Chanel Tilghman stars as the lonely, spunky Dorothy, swept away by a tornado from her prairie home to the magical Land of Oz. Gifted with an innocent look, a relaxed stage presence, and a lovely singing voice, Tilghman delights as the naïve but adventurous Kansas schoolgirl.

Cathleen Riddley (Zeke) and Chanel Tilghman (Dorothy) in “The Wizard of Oz”, at ACT in The City. Photo credit: Kevin Berne.

Also wonderful are the three friends she meets on her way to visit the Great Oz: the Straw Man, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion (loose-limbed Danny Scheie, self-contained Darryl V. Jones, and pugnacious Cathleen Ridley, respectively.)

Add to this list of huge talents Ada Westfall as the pontificating Professor Marvel/Wizard, Courtney Walsh as the Wicked Witch of the West and Katrina Lauren McGraw as Glinda the Good. Walsh oozes evil from several spots in the theater, much to the delight of the audience, and McGraw absolutely shines as Glinda. Ebullient and comical, McGraw was outstanding as Maria in last year’s production of The Sound of Music at Mill Valley’s Throckmorton Theatre. Not to be overlooked are the supremely talented cello-playing El Beh in multiple roles, and Travis Santell Rowland as a glittery whirling dervish wreaking havoc in both Kansas and Oz.

(Top) Katrina Lauren McGraw (Glinda), (Bottom) Chanel Tilghman (Dorothy), and (Background) Beth Wilmurt in “The Wizard of Oz”, now through Sunday, June 25, 2023. Photo credit: Kevin Berne

This Wizard benefits greatly from solid direction and inventive choreography by Sam Pinkleton, but what takes it into the stratosphere of comedy and campy nostalgia are costumes and set design by David Zinn. The set is a psychedelic riot of every imaginable tacky thing, as if the entire contents of a Party City store were expanded to gigantic proportions and scattered at random across the stage. The closing scene is a bit baffling, wherein all the characters appear on stage dressed as Dorothy in prairie garb but it doesn’t detract from the show’s joyous impact.

ACT’s Wizard of Oz is an amazing and marvelous spectacle, very much in keeping with San Francisco’s long tradition of outrageous theatricality—The Cockettes, The Thrillpeddlers, The Tubes, and as mentioned, Beach Blanket Babylon. It’s also a production that would probably be illegal in Florida, Texas, and other less-enlightened parts of the world. Be glad we live where we do.


Aisle Seat Review Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact: barry.m.willis@gmail.com


ProductionWizard of Oz
Written byL. Frank Baum

Music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Directed bySam Pinkleton
Producing CompanyAmerican Conservatory Theater (ACT)
Production DatesThru June 25th
Production AddressToni Rembe Theatre, 415 Geary Street, SF, CA
Telephone(415) 749-2228
Tickets$25 – $110
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK!YES!