The Wonderful “Wizard” of Woodlands

Back in 1998 I wrote a review of “Annie” with a headline that read “Class Act Productions Earns Its Name.” All these years later, under the brilliant guidance of Producer/Director Keith Brumfield, they continue to put the class in Class Act with every new production. That was certainly the case this weekend when thousands of fans made their way to the Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts to enjoy Class Act’s version of MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Class” was also the word for Conductor/pianist/Musical Director, Robert Hunt, and the sixteen-piece orchestra that performed superbly throughout the evening. Arrayed beautifully on a platform above the stage, the musicians really captured the flavor of the original film soundtrack. More of that magic came with the incredible assortment of creative and multi-colored costume designs from Lyndel Middleton, stunning sound designs from engineer, Alan Haigood, and the exciting lighting designs of Jonathan Shelledy. To top it off, there were the exceptional set design, technical direction, and special effects of Class Act veteran, Frank “F.B.” Kern III. The Kansas storm, the wizard’s chamber, and the witches’ magical comings and goings, were all impressively accomplished.

I am sure there is no need to recite the well-known story line of the young farm girl, Dorothy, who has magical adventures in the Land of Oz. In fact, if there is one drawback to a production of this kind, it is the unavoidable comparisons to a film that became an international treasure, and thus, the audience distraction of being able to anticipate every word of dialogue. But that did not deter the C.A. organization from producing a knockout production that even featured some surprises with songs and dialogue cut from the original film. And many of the old jokes hold up, as when the Scarecrow announces (in this political year), that “A lot of people without brains do an awful lot of talking.”

Lovely Sarah Feye as Dorothy leads the enormous and talented cast. With fine voice, and under a beautiful starry sky, she is yet another star as she lights up the stage with the familiar “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Scene-stealing “Hairy” Scheffler played her dog, Toto. Their arrival in Oz was highlighted by the spectacular “Munchkinland” sequence featuring the delicious and well-trained voices of the good witch, Glinda, (warmly played by Laurelyn Korfhage), the superb Girls Chorus, and the delightful cast of Munchkins. Treats like the Lullaby League ballerinas, the swaggering “Tough Guys,” and the hammy Mayor, (played by Cole Thompson), made this segment great fun. And it is here in Munchkinland that we first see the high level of dance performance produced by choreographers, Bonnie Schuetz and Megan Kane, for numbers like “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead,” and the whirling “Yellow Brick Road.”

There are wonderful marching Winkies, and delightful dancing Jitterbugs, and of course the Cowardly Lion (Sean Rooney), the Tinman (Ian Ramirez), and the Scarecrow (Austin Hunt), round a fine cast that is capped with Mary Laws as the Wicked Witch, and Jimmy Dolphin as the Wizard. With “If I Only Had a Brain,” the beautifully costumed Mr. Hunt sang brightly, and had excellent body language, while he contended with a fine group of amusingly tuxedoed crows. The singing Apple Trees were also nicely performed and hilarious. Onstage pyrotechnics announce the Wicked Witch’s fiery arrival. Her great make-up looked like a week’s work, and if every word of dialogue could not be heard, the shrieks were certainly loud and clear, and her death scene is a pip. With another great costume, Rooney’s playful Lion was in tip-top voice and full of fun in numbers like “If I Only Had the Nerve.” Ramirez’ costume and make-up highlighted his fine singing in the very animated “If I Only Had a Brain.”

A brilliant trick enabled the younger cast members to become first a field of red poppies, and then to magically transform into a field of snow. And speaking of brilliance, the Act II opening of “Merry Old Land of Oz” was a sea of emerald green satin, with silky voices from the cast, and a dazzling production number. Rooney continues the brilliance with a nice approach to “King of the Forest,” that is a cloak-fidgeting riot while it sweetly echoes the best of Bert Lahr.

Now there were moments when actors rushed their lines and could not be clearly heard. And there were some in the audience for whom too much special-effects smoke was a drag. But when the smoke cleared, hundreds of local youngsters, parents and volunteers, had given themselves and this community a rich experience in the theater. When Dorothy concluded, “There’s no place like home,” perhaps she had set the stage for our local slogan: “Come Home to the Woodlands!”

(The Villager    8.12.04)

(The Courier    8.15.04)

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
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