CHRIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH THEATRE REVIEW
Ponte Vedra Beach’s Christ Episcopal Church and The Mallory Fine Arts Fund opened a two-weekend run of the classic “Wizard of Oz” on April 23, 2015. The spring production has become an annual event; previous productions included “Fiddler on the Roof,”, “Music Man,” and “Oliver.”
If you read no further, let it be known this is an excellent production, with excellent performances and is probably the most colorful version we have ever seen. Just imagine over forty-plus actors on stage at the same time in the Munchkin scene, all dressed in different costumes and hats, displaying multiple colors from the rainbow.
“Wizard has become one of the most popular musicals ever produced in America. The story and characters are based on a children’s book by L. Frank Baum that was first published 115 years ago. We have seen many productions, all very interesting, because no two are exactly the same. Each director has their own ideas about costume and set design. What never changes are the songs that seem to linger in your head for weeks after you’ve seen the show. Come on now, admit it: you too know the words to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” and “Ding-dong The Witch is Dead.”
To refresh your memory about the plot: The story is that of Dorothy, a Kansas teenager who runs away from the farmhouse where she has been living with her relatives, Aunt Em (Patrice Sheedy) and Uncle Henry (Mike Roberts). She finds herself caught up in a tornado and lands in Munchkinland in the World of Oz, a fantasy world filled with strange beings. Dorothy must outwit the Wicked Witch of the West to return home, and is helped by Glinda the Good Witch, who tells her she must follow the yellow brick road to find the Wizard of Oz, who has the power to help her further. She finds friends along the way: a talking scarecrow who needs a brain, a rusting tinman who needs a heart, and a cowardly lion who needs courage. The wizard (Richard Roach), behind his fierce façade, resembles a fortune teller previously seen in Kansas.
Another of Dorothy’s companions is Toto, her dog. Director Jason Woods has avoided using a live animal, which often presents problems on-stage, as dogs and cats are known for upstaging actors just by putting in an appearance. Toto is small, black, and stuffed, and a fine actor when helped by human hands.
The leading role of Dorothy is alternated by Isabel Dondero and Hannah Woods. Both sang so well during auditions that both were cast. We saw the opening night production with Ms. Dondero, who, with long braided hair, was picture-perfect. She is a senior at Ponte Vedra High School, and has played the lead in several musicals, including appearing as Laurie in “Oklahoma” and Nancy in “Oliver.” Ms. Woods also has an impressive resume. Audiences will see a wonderful Dorothy every night throughout the run of the show.Rich Sheedy was funny as the Cowardly Lion, in apparently his stage debut. Larry Fairall, hilarious as the Tinman, is a veteran local actor who has done many shows, including an appearance with Loretta Swit at the Alhambra Theatre. His Tinman costume was one of the best we have seen for this role. Franklin Ritch, with his physical antics as Scarecrow, was a crowd favorite.
Another crowd favorite was Jessica Ferris, as the unfriendly Miss Almira Gulch and the even more unfriendly Wicked Witch of the West. We last saw this fine actress at Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Limelight Theatre"[/p2p]as Sister Helen in “Do Back Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?”Rosalie Davies was the sparkling Glinda, Witch of the North, who looked lovely in her gorgeous pink gown. Richard Roach’s previous acting experience has been in church plays. He was very convincing as friendly Professor Marvel and the powerful The Wizard of Oz.
The set design by Shane Estock (who also choreographed the show), used all movable pieces, which included houses, trees, and the palace of the wizard. He kept the structures lightweight by using products generously donated by Brock Foam & Stone, Inc. The Costume Army was headed by Pam Joiner, and there were lots and lots of fabulous costumes; all very colorful and professionally turned out.
The lights, special effects, and fire effects by Matt Moore added much to the excitement and magic of the show. We especially liked the way he created the tornado effect with the help of actors on the stage. The feature actors were all miked and superbly so by Sound Technicians Garrett Spies and Wheaton Graham. Of note, the acoustics of the venue were fine, even for those actors without microphones.
This was Jason Woods’ second year of directing the spring musical theatre special. An accomplished and insightful director, he is also a fine actor and his own one-man show of “A Christmas Carol” has been presented annually to rave reviews. We last saw Mr. Woods as Ludwig Van Beethoven, in the production of “33 Variations” by The 5 & Dime Theatre Company at the Cummer Museum.
The opening night audience loved this show, which is filled with timeless humor, and they responded with clapping during several of the songs without any prompting.
Oz has something for everyone, including Flying Monkeys, Crows, Animated Trees, Munchkins, Winkies, and Ozians, each unique, and offers wonderful opportunities for cast members to explore their stage talents. You never know who will turn up in a large cast show. One of the mature Munchkins/Ozians was Jill-Cook Richards, a Spiritual Advisor, Intuitive Life Coach and a long time friend to the male half of the Dual Critics since she was the Psychic Advisor to the movie Poltergeist II back in the 80s. This attractive lady, now a grandmother, was making her theatre debut with this show.
Rounding out the cast are:
Flying Monkeys: Isabel Dondero, Priscilla Jackson, Grace Pruett, Kris Stam, Madelyn Wells (Nikko), Boston Woods, Hannah Woods
Crows: Robb Mitchell (also as Winkie), Marcus Morris Jr. (also as Guard/Winkie)
Trees: Olivia Campbell (1st), Pam Joiner (2nd), Julie Buckley (3rd), Ingrid McCawley (also as Munchkin No. 2), Dani Moore
Winkies/Ozians: Charles Peebles, Jay Kirkley, Paul Guitar
Munchkins/Ozians: Citizens: Johnny Warren (Mayor), Macy Darkatsh (Barrister), Sydney Pollock (Coroner), Victoria Swallow (City Mother No. 1) Jenna Guitar (City Mother No. 2)
Lullaby League: Bayden Armstrong, Bridgette Wells, Katie McCawley
Lollipop Guild: Julia Polster, Lexie Swallow, Ava Zilahy
Poppies: Isabella Carson (Braggart), Brigitta Goliber (Munchkin No.l) Josie Frein (City Mother No. 3), Julia Auchter, Katie Dykstra, Maggie Dykstra, Sydney Evanger, Kaylee Hendry, Brooklyn Tardona Michals, Jill Cook-Richards, Cecilia Doyle, Katarina Goliber, Megan Landis, Christine “Chris” Meide, Leigh Polster, Darby Purcell, Kyla Spaulding, & Pam Woods
Thanks to Ponte Vedra Beach’s Christ Episcopal Church and The Mallory Fine Arts Fund. The dates for The Wizard of Oz are April 23 – 26 and April 30 – May 3, 2015. Christ Episcopal Church is located at 400 San Juan Drive in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Tickets are available at www.woz.ticketleap.com. For additional information, visit christepiscopalchurch.org.