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Mudlark Theater’s fall lineup includes an exploration into transgender identity in ‘The Marvelous Land of Oz’

Submitted by Mudlark Theater

Many people assume that young people grappling with their gender identities is a solely 21st century phenomenon. But this fall, Mudlark Theater, an Evanston-based youth theater company, will be presenting “The Marvelous Land of Oz,” a musical based on the book of the same name, published in 1904, that shows that the queer and transgender narratives have been appearing in youth literature since well before they were addressed openly in society.

The book was written by L. Frank Baum when he was living in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood and was the first of several sequels that he wrote to The Wizard of Oz. In it, Baum writes of the adventures of a young orphan named Tip as he travels through the wonderful land of Oz in search of the long-lost Princess Ozma. At the end of the story, Tip’s transformation into Ozma presents an allegory that remains cutting-edge more than a century after it was written.

Anthony Whitaker, who wrote the music and book for the show, first debuted the musical in 2013 for the New American Folk Theater, and is pleased to be directing this version for Mudlark from Nov. 25 through Nov. 27 at Mudlark’s Red Curtain Theater, 1417 Hinman Ave. in Evanston. Tickets are $17.

Whitaker, who has been performing since the age of 10 and is well-known in Chicago as both a performer and director, brings decades of experience into his adaptation of the work for today’s audiences. With the trans experience at the forefront of our national conversation, Whitaker says it’s important for artists to talk about the complicated nature of identity.

“The book may have been published in 1904, but the themes aren’t moldy,” Whitaker said. “Kids are still grappling in 2022 with the challenges of self-discovery and coming to terms with who you really are.”

The show is also a return to the musical format for Mudlark, which hasn’t presented an original main stage musical in 15 years.

“We’re thrilled to be presenting a musical on the Mudlark main stage again and couldn’t think of a more relevant way to do that than through Tip’s story,” said Andrew Biliter, Mudlark’s artistic director. “Anthony’s original songs are gorgeous, and Tip’s adventure is just as fun as Dorothy’s—only less well-known.”

In addition to “The Marvelous Land of Oz,” Mudlark will be presenting three other productions as part of its fall season, all of which explore the present through the lens of the past.

The season opens with “The Salem Project,” running Nov. 10 to 13, inspired by the real-life story of the mass hysteria in late-17th-century Massachusetts in which dozens of people were wrongly accused of witchcraft. In the show, actors will play both the youths involved in the trials and a group of modern-day students working to exonerate a young victim of the trials whose name was never cleared.

After “Oz” in November comes the Short Play Festival in early December, with new short plays developed by the actors in collaboration with adult writers/directors. And the season finishes with “The Nutcracker,” a vibrant reimagining of the classic short story that inspired Tchaikovsky’s ballet.

Aside from “The Nutcracker,” which includes four adult actors playing the adult characters, the actors in Mudlark’s shows this season are all 10 to 16 years old. Most are Evanston or Skokie residents.

“Our audiences are always amazed at the level of quality and sophistication that our actors bring to their work, and we love being able to give young people the chance to express themselves through art,” Biliter said. “This fall’s shows are a continuation of that mission.”

Tickets are available at https://mudlarktheater.org.

Mudlark Theater’s Fall 2022 Season

The Salem Project — Nov 4-6
Performance Times: Nov 4 at 7 pm, Nov 5 at 3 pm & 7 pm, Nov 6 at 3 pm
Synopsis: In 1693, 20 innocent people were executed in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, for the crime of practicing witchcraft. “The Salem Project” is a devising process where actors will play both the historical young people involved, and a group of modern-day students working to exonerate one of the victims.
Tickets: $17

The Marvelous Land of Oz — Nov 18-20
Performance Times: Nov 18 at 7 pm, Nov 19 at 3 pm & 7 pm, Nov 20 at 3 pm
Synopsis: The direct sequel to “The Wizard of Oz” follows young Tip as he escapes his life as a witch’s servant and sets off on a journey to find the lost princess of Oz and learn about his past. His ragtag crew of companions includes the friendly Jack Pumpkinhead, the dutiful Saw-Horse, the intellectual Wogglebug, and a talking flying machine with the head of a Gump (a creature like a reindeer). Even the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman reappear!
Tickets: $17

Short Play Festival — Dec. 2-3
Performance Times: Dec 2 at 7 pm, Dec. 3 at 3 pm & 7 pm
Synopsis: An evening of new short plays, developed by the actors in collaboration with adult writers/directors, and all set within a single shared location.
Tickets: $17

The Nutcracker — Dec. 15-18
Performance Times:
Dec 15 at 7 pm, Dec. 16 at 7 pm, Dec. 17 at 3 pm & 7 pm, Dec. 18 at 3 pm
Synopsis: Mudlark’s beloved Nutcracker is back! Everyone in 12-year-old Marie’s family thinks she needs to grow up and stop living in the imaginary world of her toys. Little do they know, that world is real…

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