Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh My! “THE WIZARD OF OZ”

A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: NORTHEAST FLORIDA CONSERVATORY

The Northeast Florida Conservatory opened the tenth production of its series of outstanding musical theater shows with “The Wizard of Oz” on August 11, 2017. It will run through August 20.

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 first published in 1900, he could not possibly have envisioned its future success as an enduring classic capturing both the hearts and imagination of readers.

The story of “The Wizard of Oz” is that of Dorothy (Christine Sullivan), a Kansas teenager who is carried by a tornado to the brightly colored fantasy land of Oz. Oz is filled with inhabitants totally unlike those in Kansas; they include Crows, Munchkins, Monkeys, and Poppies. A talking scarecrow (Aleck Condon), a rusting tin man (Christopher DuClos), and a cowardly lion (Jacob Dinkel) become her friends and travel companions.

To return home to Auntie Em (Katherine Montana) and Uncle Henry (Jim Warren), Dorothy must outwit the Wicked Witch of the West (Rachel Padgett); she is helped by Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Julia Rigon). Professor Charles Marvel (Andy Thompson) advises Dorothy to take the famous Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City to seek help from the Wizard of Oz. Along the way, she and her friends encounter many obstacles before arriving at the Wizard’s palace, where a City Guard (Andrew Ocean) arranges for her to meet the Wizard.

Another companion of Dorothy is her tiny dog Toto, who was portrayed by Abbey (owner Richard Entwistle). Abbey was fabulous and we hereby nominate her as the best supporting canine actor ever. Although Abbey was carried around several times by Dorothy, she stayed in character by looking appealingly at the audience throughout.

The Conservatory’s musicals have usually been directed by Founder Richard Dickson, but for this play, he selected the amazing Ava Fixel as the director. She is an educator at Bartram Trail High School, and is also directing the school’s summer Performing Arts Camp. She enlisted the help of her husband Michael Fixel to design the sets and he built them with the help of his crew. Of note, he is also a playwright; his musical “Freefall Frostbite” will open in October at Theatre 80 St. Marks in New York.

Ava and Michael’s talented daughter, Juliet Fixel, choreographed the electrifying Jitterbug number. She currently lives and works in New York as a choreographer, director, and performer.

The talents of Juanelle Marshall added colorful and interesting costumes that emphasized the differences between the fantasy world of Oz and the reality-based Kansas farm that was Dorothy’s home.

Richard Dickson, who is both the Producer and the Musical Director, directs the 18-piece orchestra that plays all those familiar and fabulous songs, which include “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”

The choreography was amazing considering the limited space available, with dancers from age 5 to 50 (and older). The actors portraying the fearless foursome (Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion and Tinman) were perfect for their roles and sang well. In the coveted role of Dorothy, Ms. Sullivan was fantastic and one of the best we have seen in this role.

The ensemble members played multiple roles. As listed in the excellent program (which had color photos) they were: Alyssa Billings, Ava Billings, Evan Billings, Lydia Broward, Ava Canipe, Ava Carillo, Jaycie Grizzard, Madeline Krawchuk, Rhonda London, Brynna McCarthy, Courteney Miller, Matt Miller, Rose Montana, Charlie Reid, Grace Rodriquez, Jane Rodriquez, Emily Turner, Gabby Valerio, and Jessy Valerio.

The Production Staff included: Richard Dickson (Producer, Musical Director) Ava Fixel (Director), Bill Watson (Orchestra Manager), Billy Lister (Stage Manager), Taby Getsy (Assistant Stage Manager), Jill Fixel and Brenna Shuman (Choreographers), Michael Fixel (Set Design), Andy Thornton (Sound Design), Tad Wiggins(Lighting Design), Juanelle Marshall (Costumer), Brian Gamel and Rhoda London (Program).

“Wizard” closes August 20 at the Northeast Florida Conservatory in Mandarin, and will be followed by “Annie,” with performances during December 1 – 17, 2017. For reservations and additional information, call 904-374-8639 or visit nfconseratory.org.

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.
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