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‘The Wizard of Oz’ at CFA Academy

blumey student critics
T. Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
Elizabeth Kingaby

Some high schools have more funding than others, and CFA Academy’s finances for this production were clearly hefty: The money spent on the show could have paved the Yellow Brick Road with gold. My jealousy of their budget soon turned to appreciation, then amazement, because the way in which the money was spent took the show to a whole new level.

Each facet of the production showed a combination of hard work, clear talent, and wise, purposeful spending, creating an impeccably well put together rendition of L. Frank Baum’s classic “The Wizard of Oz,” the progressivism allegory in which Dorothy Gale, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion travel the yellow brick road and learn to appreciate home.

It was definitely a close call for the title of “star of the show.” The contenders? Toto, the costumes, and senior Joshua Little as the Scarecrow. Toto, played by lookalike Gigi, was a frequent favorite for the audience. The dog was professionally trained by a three-person team and appeared in nearly every scene. The charm factor grew throughout the show, as Toto consistently remained calm, focused, and silent on stage, then started raucously yelping on cue. The “oh look, a puppy!” effect brought out each audience member’s inner child, helping to enrich the youthful appeal of the show.

The costumes were breathtaking. The monkeys’ faces were adorned with horrifying makeup and synthetics that had me cowering in my seat. The Tin Man, played by Jackson Campbell, was encased in metal pieces, extensive paint, and even such details as small washers on his fingertips, creating a costume that literally shone. The costumes were consistently complex, creative, and coordinated for the massive ensemble. From the very sugary Lullaby League (played by the young end of the school’s K-12 student body) to the hilarious greaser crows and even the dozens of green Citizens of Oz with their own distinctly dressed personalities, there was absolutely no lazy costuming.

Even less lazy was the rate at which quick changes occurred – in just seconds, each with their own team of two at the ready to rapidly wipe off their face paint and exchange their attire, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion all transformed back into their Kansas personas of Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke in the quickest significant costume change I have ever seen in live theater.

Little portrayed a sidesplitting, clumsy, witty, endearing Scarecrow who won our hearts while leaving us in stitches that resembled the ones holding patchwork cloth to his straw-filled limbs. While the musical’s writing gave the character comical lines to work with, Little’s performance doubled the humor and showed his clear talent. Flipping, falling, and fumbling all over the stage, Little fully committed to the role and delivered an Oz-tastic performance.

Few performers struggled to match the magnitude of the production around them, and those that did eventually found their power. Early on, Mikayla Ostrynski’s Dorothy seemed a bit strained, but by the second act she was back on track and sounding stellar.

Ultimately it was the details of the production that made it stand out, especially in the technical arena. The Poppies scene, filled with flowers that put the characters to sleep, woke up the audience with a massive burst of floral smell-o-vision scent that filled the theater, along with a frequently used fog machine.

The incredible set, designed by Chris Speed and Sara Ann Arey, featured massive constructions, such as the fence and fabric cloud wall that reached floor to ceiling, and many smaller pieces that showed great attention to detail. Outside the theater, photo ops were set up so audience members could take home their own memories of Oz. All these technical and additional features occurred under stage manager Mollie Johnson, who is only in the 11th grade.

All too often classics are simply plowed through without originality. With an abstract concept and high energy in tow, this fresh and fun performance had me clicking my heels and realizing “There’s no musical like a classic, there’s no musical like a classic!”

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