“The Wizard of Oz” remains a classic in film and in theater for many reasons: It has fantastically colorful scenery, memorable characters, and songs that no one can help but sing along to.
But perhaps the most remarkable part of the work is not something we notice on the surface; instead it is the meaning we pull from Dorothy’s whole experience: true friendship, one regardless of outward appearance or background. With recent events in the political sphere that aim to divide rather than to bring together different people, Charlotte Country Day’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” was a very appropriate one.
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The set opens up in a colorless world, based on the 1939 movie’s black and white beginning. Dorothy (Alana Markel) is dressed in brown and white and is running from the notorious Miss Gulch (Victoria Washburn), who is intent on taking away her dear dog Toto (a live dog, “Bella Adern,” who was perfectly behaved throughout). The first appearance of song is Dorothy’s most famous “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which Markel sang quite beautifully and honestly, able to sing up and down the tune without reaching or straining her voice. Dorothy says how awful it would be if Toto were to be taken away, for Toto is her “only friend.”
Throughout the show, a virtual projected backdrop is used to create depth and movement, especially interesting during the tornado scene. The audience can see the tornado coming in and then suddenly the screen goes black. The house is spun with Dorothy and Toto inside as they make their way to Oz.
When the two arrive in Oz, Dorothy is changed into the same dress but in blue, and color has entered the theater. Multi-colored umbrellas painted with flowers are all over the stage, hiding what we soon realize are about 20 munchkins, just as colorfully dressed and giggling as Dorothy contemplates where she has landed. Dorothy assumes she must be somewhere over the rainbow, which is interesting because the burst of color makes us think that maybe she’s actually INSIDE the rainbow. The backdrop of Oz remains on the screen, however it was underwhelming and looked a little too video-game-like compared to the flowers and ornamented munchkins that graced the stage. The munchkins, all young children, I assume from the lower school, stayed on pitch and followed along to the choreography (by Linda Booth) very well.
Glinda (Destiny Smith) was just as beautiful as she should be, with a pink puffy ball gown and wand to match. She too had a nice soprano voice that matched her character. As Dorothy follows the yellow brick road to go meet the wizard, she starts out just as alone as she had been in Kansas. When she meets Scarecrow (Kenny Letts), she is only shortly surprised by his being a talking scarecrow. While this could just be because her surprise had worn off after seeing wicked and good witches and a plethora of singing and dancing munchkins, it is still worth noting that Dorothy is quickly accepting of someone who looks and acts so differently. Without suspicion or hesitation, they become friends and continue the journey together. Soon after, they encounter the Tinman (Lee Cohen) and the Cowardly Lion (Nicklaus Ipock), two more misfits, each just as different as the next.
All three of the new friends fit their respective characters nicely, not only singing and acting as the character should but moving so as well. The Tinman moved stiffly, with locked knees, the Scarecrow bounced clumsily as straw should, and the Lion crouched, ready to cower at any approaching beast or bug. Letts (the scarecrow) was an especially natural dancer, not just during his featured pieces but throughout.
Kudos must be handed to director Jenny Goodfellow and musical director Gary Forbis for the performances of each soloist, who not only all stayed on pitch, but used their voices healthily and purely, neither belting nor screaming at any point. Accompaniment was provided by a rhythm section, including student Olivia Jones on drums, and while they did well maintaining a solid foundation of music, it would have been nice to have a larger orchestra to provide more diversity of sound.
After the odd quartet visits the Wizard and they realize they must kill the Wicked Witch (Washburn), they head on to the witch’s castle. Washburn definitely had the wicked voice down -- every screech and cackle let us know who was in charge of that moment. When Dorothy is taken, it is up to the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tinman to save her, and they do so successfully. A triumph of set design, when the witch melts, she disappears atop a set right before our eyes.
Dorothy and her new friends get started back on the trail, this time to finally get what they had searched for. Each came from some place different, needing something different, and because of these facts came together to reach the emerald city. They were able to overcome their differences and rejoice in them, and not only did they gain friendship, but they achieved something unthinkably wonderful together -- they defeated evil!
While the “Wizard of Oz” is remembered often for its ruby slippers and notable songs, it should ultimately be remembered for its radical idea that not only can extremely different people become long-lasting friends, but together, they can change the world for the good.