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Arts and Entertainment

Imagine the Emerald City

Merely Players stages inventive ‘Oz’

It’s tornado season in America. So when a tornado strikes early in the highly inventive Merely Players production of “The Wizard of Oz,” you think you know what to expect. Be prepared. You’re in for theatrical wizardry. It’s on a scale that bursts the physical and imaginative limitations of the Durango Arts Center stage.

“The Wizard of Oz,” a musical based on the classic L. Frank Baum story and the MGM movie, has been adapted and transformed by Mona Wood-Patterson and Charles Ford, plus a crew and cast of what appears to be thousands.

After an overture of familiar tunes (pianist Ivy Walker and percussionist Mark Rosenberg), two realistic scenes set the stage for the tornado. From that very American catastrophe, Dorothy Gale’s adventures begin in the fictitious Land of Oz.

The story is so well-known, it’s embedded in the American psyche as our own Homeric “Odyssey.” Intuitively, we grasp the basic plot, understand Dorothy’s acquisition of companions, thrill at various obstacles, relish the arrival of supernatural figures and relax when plot lines resolve in wishes granted.

The Merely Players production contrasts a plain Kansas farm with fantastical, pseudo-Victorian interpretations of another country: Munchkinland, magical forests and The Emerald City. These other worlds come complete with electrical lights, pipes, gears, goggles, a mechanical wizard and wacky colorful costumes (the inimitable JoAnn Nevils). Credit Ford for creating a steampunk look right out of a Jules Verne novel.

Given Ford’s caliber as a designer, he has illusioned a miniature city of small people and large flowers, a moveable yellow brick road, an evil palace and the Wizard’s own mechanical lair. Throughout, Ford creates big effects with small gestures. A spooky forest comes alive with two talking trees. A pair of furry puppets held aloft by leotarded dancers evokes an army of flying monkeys.

With such an imaginative platform, a cast of experienced and beginning players can only flourish. Wood-Patterson has assembled a solid ensemble for the central quartet (Dorothy: Amanda Curry Arcomano; Scarecrow: Dallas Padoven; Tin Man: Stephen Bowers; Lion: Landon Newton). The supernaturals, ferocious and kind, add considerable spice to the mix (Good Glinda: Erika Beardsley; Wicked Witch: Shea Costa).

Costa is terrifying as the evil witch. Her unexpected shoe-envy solo will come as a surprise. It must be one of Wood-Patterson’s inner jokes to blur the boundary of American musicals. It works and enables Costa to explore other moods before she returns to her nasty ways.

She is also responsible for choreography throughout, from the principal’s dances to the elaborate line and circle variations for the entire company.

The remaining actors acquit themselves well, from Bob Thom’s fine tenor rendering of Professor Marvel to Ethan Agro Craig’s Mayor of Munchkinland. Marc Arbeeny’s Wizard shifts gears from powerful to humble in an Omaha minute.

Wood-Patterson’s humor-filled direction is evident everywhere from itching jitterbugs to the illusion of a balloon lift-off. Dorothy, of course, is left behind, still yearning to go home. That, too, resolves nicely, and the company brings the show to a colorful, tuneful, happy ending.

“Oz” is the final performance of the Merely Players Youth Theatre Production Class. The philosophy behind a huge effort like this is that theatrical experience alongside professionals enhances creativity, discipline and self confidence. It’s obvious by the results the spirit of team work has reigned throughout.


If you go

“The Wizard of Oz,” a musical, directed by Mona Wood-Patterson, designed by Charles Ford, adapted from the L. Frank Baum book by Frank Gabrielson, with music and lyrics from the MGM film adapted from the score by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg. 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and 1 p.m. matinee Saturday, The Durango Arts Center, 802 East Second Ave. Tickets are $24 evenings, $20 matinee, available at DAC, by phone 259-2606 or online at www.durangoarts.tix.com. The show runs a little over two hours with one 15-minute intermission.

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