Virginia Cavalilere, Ryan Duncan, and Natalie Toro
in The Yellow Brick Road
(© Jeremy Daniel)
Virginia Cavalilere, Ryan Duncan, and Natalie Toro
in The Yellow Brick Road
(© Jeremy Daniel)
L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz gets a 21st-century Latino twist in the sprightly new family musical The Yellow Brick Road, making its world premiere at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, courtesy of TheatreworksUSA.

Much like Charlie Smalls and William F. Brown's The Wiz, which told the tale of an African-American Dorothy and her friends utilizing a 1970s funk-based score, Yellow Brick Road creators Mando Alvarado, Jaime Lozano, and Tommy Newman have incorporated the sounds of contemporary Latin musical styles in their reimagining, which now focuses on a spirited Latina teenager from Chicago.

In the show, Dora (Virginia Cavaliere) -- whose name is likely to not only call to mind Dorothy Gale, but also the Latina cartoon heroine Dora the Explorer -- is about to turn fifteen, and her mother (Lexi Rhoades) is throwing her a traditional Quinceañera celebration. However, Dora would rather wait for her "Sweet Sixteen," as she feels embarrassed by her ethnic heritage, doesn't speak much Spanish, and looks down at the Latin Dance forms that her older relatives cherish.

A mysterious woman (Natalie Toro) crashes the party, and seeing Dora's conflicted feelings, sends her on a journey that brings her to the Land of Oz, where she soon befriends a Scarecrow (Ryan Duncan), an Iron Chef (Frank Viveros), and a cowardly mountain lion (Cedric Leiba, Jr.). This adaptation follows the basic trajectory of The Wizard of Oz, while introducing a few ethnic-specific twists. For example, the reason the scarecrow wants a brain is that while he knows Spanish well, his English is not so good, and he desires to be able to communicate better.

Cavaliere demonstrates some powerful vocals in the reprise of Dora's signature song, "Way Out There," but sadly her dancing is not up to the demands of the musical. One of the show's central conceits is that the magical ruby slippers that Dora wears endow their owner with amazing terpsichorean ability. And the final confrontation that Dora has with La Bruja (Toro) is a dance-off, which ultimately disappoints because Cavaliere is just really not that great of a dancer. Choreographers Devanand Janki (who also directed) and Robert Tatad are probably also to blame, as perhaps they could have found a more elegant solution to showing the dance battle than what is depicted here.

Toro has a powerful presence, even if she tends a little too heavily towards caricature in her performance. Duncan, Leiba, and Viveros are all quite fun as Dora's faithful companions. Rhoades is best when portraying the role of Mother, but not as strong in her more stylized roles as Carnival Gloria, Monkey, and Wizard (which is here reimagined as a pop diva).

Ultimately, the show's songs are unlikely to banish memories of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's score to the movie musical version of The Wizard of Oz -- or even the Tony-winning music from The Wiz. However, they're all serviceable, and the musical's oft-reprised title tune is quite catchy. In addition, the show's educational aspects -- which include a Spanish tutorial as well as a valuable lesson regarding self-acceptance -- are worked in seamlessly.

The kids at the matinee performance I attended seemed to enjoy the production. And since TheatreworksUSA is presenting the show as its annual free summer offering, parents and kids should definitely make a trek out to this Road.