Friday, May 4, 2012

REVIEW: Fort Vancouver's "The Wizard of Oz" Travels a Golden Road

“There’s no place like home.”  

Endearing words from the all-too-familiar film, “The Wizard of Oz.”  But what one must remember is that these prophetic thoughts are uttered only after one has gone over the rainbow.  The real revelation is not in the destination but in the journey.

The Story:

Who does not remember Dorothy and her tornado; the Cowardly Lion and friends; the, oh, so Wicked Witch of the West; the Munchkins; and the zany Professor Marvel (aka, the Wizard of Oz).  But this is a dream well worth re-awaking, via this production, not only for some stellar performances, but for a bit of re-imagining, too.

For those not familiar with the story: it is of Dorothy, a bored teenager, brought up on a Kansas farm.  Into this uneventful life, her world turns upside down when a tornado (a young girl’s awaking into adulthood, perhaps?) sweeps her into the magical land of Oz. Lost in this whirlwind of color and fantasies and trying to find her way back home, she meets a lion, a tin man and a scarecrow to aid her in her trek down that golden road to see the Wizard, who is purported to have all the answers. 

But it seems they all may be seeking answers to questions that have been within them all the time.  Among their adventures with flying monkeys, Winkies, poisoned poppies and a very nasty Witch, it is safe to say everyone gets their desired wishes or just desserts.  (Would it were that simple in our own “Kansas” settings.)

The Staging:

There are some lovely performances, especially by Kendall Josey in the guise of Dorothy. She has a marvelous singing voice, unfortunately restricted to one solo number, “Over The Rainbow,” so well rendered.  But the really amazing thing is her acting performance as the character. She brings one aspect to this role that even the incomparable Judy didn’t—you really believe she is a misfit teenager, out of her element, with all the quirks and foibles of growing pains. Josey is not trying to imitate anyone, she is simply being the person that is written. She puts her own hometown, homespun spin on it and it works beautifully!

Equally as effective is Mackenzie Broom as Professor Marvel/Oz. She completely molds her own character out of her imagination. (And isn’t that what enacting a role is all about?) The character, as written, is, at the very least, eccentric. Broom carries this to the extreme in her creation. She is daring, fearless, animated and appears completely at ease on the stage.  She pushes the envelope to the edge (as does Robin Williams in his guises) and puts her own maniacal touch on her Marvel/Wizard. A talent well worth following in future endeavors.

And Simone Corbett is deliciously wicked as the Witch. The character needs to engulf the stage when she’s on and Corbett has no trouble in that regard.  She moves, cackles and wields her power with great authority. 

The Lion (Courtney Bettis) embodies nicely the humor and vulnerability of the role. The Scarecrow (Jon Judge) easily slides into this warm, soft guise as a character of substance, even though he’s made of straw. And the Tin Man (Josh Riddell) nicely inhabits the lanky fellow with a heart of gold. Tamika Taylor is a beautiful Glinda and Max Burdick has some funny exchanges as the Guard of Oz.

It is good to see the expansion of the cast accumulated from the Gaiser and McLaughlin schools.  And Danielle Reid has done a superior job on the glorious scenery for this production. The band, as well, added to the success of this show.

Sean O’Malley should be complimented for taking on the formidable task of mounting this show, not an easy job, considering all the complications of music, movement, acting and staging.  And I applaud the cross-gender and cross-cultural casting of the roles.

This is not to say this is a perfect show. The micing needs some serious revisiting, the band overpowered the actors at times, and the diction of the performers was sometimes sloppy. The set changes need to be quicker and move more smoothly.

And the Toto is a no-no. It seemed more silly than effective to have an offstage voice bark for this beleaguered beast—the invisible presence works well enough. 

Some of these problems are due to the cavernous space in which they are performed, as well as opening night jitters.

This production is well worth attending because, in part, it’s a cry from the heart for a fading art form in our education system. Attention must be paid to The Arts, performing or otherwise, in our schools and communities. The confidence it builds, the teamwork it instills, and the worlds they explore, are important parts of building character in people. 

But, perhaps, this was best expressed by Bob, the bus driver, who was in the audience for this performance. He explained that he knew many of these kids and had faith in them. He said some came from troubled pasts but that this artistic avenue they’ve chosen has, perhaps, regained for them, some of the goodness they have been seeking in this world. Not a bad reason to come and support these young folks, is it?!

The show plays this week at Fort Vancouver High School.  Call the school for times and other performance dates 360-313-4000.

By Dennis J. Sparks (Mr. Sparks was formerly a Portland theatre reviewer for the Vancouver Voice, and is currently a free-lance writer/director/producer).

No comments:

Post a Comment