Follow A Yellow Brick Road – “THE WIZARD OF OZ”

FSCJ HIGH SCHOOL SUMMER MUSICAL REVIEW

The 10th Annual FSCJ High School Musical opened on stage at the Nathan H. Wilson Center for the Arts at 11901 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida on July 24, 2015. This year’s selection, which will run through August 2, is “The Wizard of Oz.”

You have probably seen one or more versions of what has become one of America’s most popular family musicals, enjoyed by children and adults of all ages. When L. Frank Baum wrote “The Wonderful World of Oz,” a children’s novel which was first published in 1900, he could not possibly have envisioned its future success as an enduring classic, capturing both the imagination and the hearts of his readers.

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Let it be known that FSCJ’s version is a spectacular production and unique in many ways, attributes which are characteristic of all of the musicals staged in this wonderful summer program, which was started by Beth Harvey, the Director of the Wilson Center.

Besides hearing all those great songs like “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead!” and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” we were treated to outstanding visual special effects, sets, and costumes. The FSCJ Artist Series and their generous donors spared no expense in making “The Wizard” a top quality production and a true bargain at $25.00 a ticket, with discounts for children, seniors, and military.

The story is that of Dorothy, a young teenager carried away by a tornado from her bleak Kansas home to the Land of Oz, a fantasy landscape, filled with brilliant colors. The inhabitants include Munchkins, a talking Scarecrow (Brian Alford), a shiny but rusting Tin Man (Joshua Johnson) a Cowardly Lion (Malik Bilbrew), and a Wizard (Jacob Sims) who resembles a fortune teller from Kansas. To return home to Aunt Em (Victoria Hensley) and Uncle Henry (Sam Greene), and her farmhand friends (Stephen Moore, Cross Blocker, and Jackson Lamb), Dorothy, assisted by Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Sara Fullford) must outwit the Wicked Witch of the West (Jillian Parsons). This is not an easy task, as the Wicked Witch has many subjects to assist her, including Nikko (Reece Weaver), the commander of a troupe of amazingly agile flying monkeys.

wizard of ozThe leading role of Dorothy is marvelously played by Episcopal High School senior Sarah Cumella. A petite charmer with a big voice, she is picture-perfect for this part and also sings like an angel. Ms. Cumella could easily play the lead in “Annie” with its great songs.

Dorothy is accompanied by Toto, her little gray dog; a faithful companion. Canines obviously don’t have a strong union to represent their interests these days, because the trend is to use stuffed toys on stage as stand-ins. This production uses a unique approach. Toto is a stuffed dog, but one that barks, nods his head, walks, and wags his tail. His personal trainer (Brittany Nievinski) becomes a part of the show while using a remote control disguised as a leash for animation.

While we have mentioned the featured characters as shown in the program, this production has many other colorful performers who represent almost every school the North Florida area. They were dressed in fabulous costumes created by the Costume Crew, who was assisted by a student crew of ten for all the quick changes required. Amanda Harvey designed/constructed the Monkey Wings.

There are 43 actors in the show, but it seemed closer to 100, as many of these talented actors double back in different roles. We want to credit all the participants, but in the interest of space, are going to list them in only one role

FLYING MONKEYS: Mikell Graf, Mackenna Jacobs, Amy Kurtz, and Ashton McClain.

MUNCHKINS: Isabel Hiday, Emma LaKey, Grace Lloyd, Olivia Montalbano, Halie Newton, Mallorie Sievert, and Tabitha Wyatt.

MINI MUNCHKINS: Paige Abbott, Mahalia Dartiguenave, Samuel Nelson and Aubrey Sykes.

CROWS: Omar Howard, Samantha Nelson, and Natalie Sala

APPLE TREES: Paul Caldwell, Keeley Doski, and Charis Ouk

POPPIES: Lilly Bateh, Rachael Garland, Carolyn Lok, Abigail Morrell, and Keely Pratt.

OZIANS: Caitlin Couch, Lauren Hancock, Ally Grace Jennings, Emma LaKey, Savannah LeBlanc, Billy Lister, Halie Newton, and Charis Ouk.

JITTERBUGS: Anna Beyer, Tristan Curatas, Trinity Jacobs, Ashley Leake, and Abigail Morrell.

WINKIES: Blu Allison, Paul Caldwell, Keeley Doski, Joi Johnson, Jackson Lamb, Hannah Mendillo, and Natalie Skala.

The hottest number in the show is the Jitterbug scene, choreographed by Amber Daniels, which featured some fine tap dancing and singing.

Johnny Pettegrew as Technical Director/Special Effects surprised the audience with some unusual effects (we aren’t providing details because we don’t want to give away too much) and was at his best in the frighteningly realistic tornado scene, which had people flying around.

Jay Deen’s scenic design is eye catching, with scene after scene of amazing landscapes that transport the audience to another world.

The sound design, by Phillip Allison, features electronic music and is well done. The series in the past has used live musicians but for this production, electronic was clearly the way to go, as pit space was limited.

A new Artistic Director for the Broadway-sized High School Summer Musical Theatre Experience is chosen every two years. Producer Beth Harvey notes in the program that over 850 young actors have auditioned over the past ten years and 690 have been cast in the shows; other participants have included 190 technicians and 100 musicians .

This will be Samuel Fisher’s final show for the series, as he previously directed “Fame.” Mr. Fisher did a masterful bit of directing this very large cast, ensuring an entertaining immersive evening of theatre. We especially liked how he brought cast members into the audience during a number of scenes, and also used the balconies to good effect. Kudos as well to the fine work of Stage Manager Ashley Weldon, who kept things running like clockwork.

After each show the cast comes to the lobby to meet, greet, pose, and sign; a page in the excellent program has been designed for collecting autographs; this is an opportunity to meet the theatre stars of the future.

Additional performances are scheduled during July 31 – August 2. We highly recommend this show for the whole family. We sat in the balcony and loved it but the Wilson has such marvelous sightlines and acoustics, all seats are good ones. Call (904) 646-2222 or (904) 442-2929 or visit artistseriesjax.org for tickets and additional information.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

october, 2021

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