Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: The Wizard of Oz at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

Posted by on Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 1:40 PM

Editor's Note: This review was written by the Indy's new theater critic, Terry Gibson. Look out for more reviews in future issues and on the IndyBlog.

Pizza can be a risky proposition in Colorado Springs.

In many establishments you are served only a semblance of the authentic item, as if someone, a visiting uncle from Pittsburgh, perhaps, had long ago described to the chef what real pizza looked like, and the chef based his (or her) creation on what could be vaguely remembered of that.

Not so with musicals. If you’re gonna step onstage in this town, you gotta belt it out with the best of ‘em.

Drop in on the splendid, spare-no-expense production of The Wizard of Oz, now running at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and see. You’ll be thoroughly pleased and gratified. Transported, in fact, right to Broadway.

Audiences today are a tough challenge for such an enterprise. Many Boomer adults, having grown up with annual screenings of the 1940 film version starring Judy Garland, embrace The Wizard of Oz with a curious hodgepodge of mild cynicism and left-wing wish-fulfillment.

Finding shortly after graduation that they are indeed, like Dorothy and Judy, no longer in Kansas anymore, they see Dorothy’s unintended dropping of a house on the Wicked Witch of the East as emancipating, that is, as setting free “the little people,” represented by the Munchkins, from class struggle. No kidding.

click to enlarge The FAC's Oz is a beautiful production. - CSFINEARTSCENTER.ORG
  • csfineartscenter.org
  • The FAC's Oz is a beautiful production.

Munchkinland itself, ruled by a benevolent singing mayor and such fierce organizations of working-class militancy as the Lolly-Pop Guild, is a gloriously egalitarian place, where “from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs” reigns supreme. The great and powerful Oz has an alarming facial resemblance to comrade Lenin, and the man behind the curtain manipulating the whole shebang is a prototype of Rupert Murdoch, or William Randolph Hearst, justly exposed and humiliated. The Wicked Witch of the West finally gets what’s coming to her, and like the bourgeois nation-state, withers away, “in all [her] beautiful wickedness.” That sort of thing.

In a sense, these whims are on target. As noted elsewhere and in the FAC program, Oz lyricist E.Y. “Yip” Harburg was reverently admired by his peers as “the social conscience of Broadway,” a man ardently “dedicated to social justice.” He conceived and wrote the words for “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” (1938), the near-sacred theme song of the Depression, and accented Dorothy’s journey down the Yellow Brick Road with clever hints of utopianism. Lines of Harburg’s like “We get up at twelve and start to work at one, take an hour for lunch and then at two we’re done — jolly good fun!” have simmered and lingered in the minds of the disenchanted for generations.

Director Scott RC Levy’s production brushes aside these middle-aged musings, however, and freshly recaptivates viewers with a masterly use of musical comedy ingredients, full steam ahead and then some.

Dorothy’s Kansas is rendered with a bleak but elegant landscape mural backdrop, reminiscent of Thomas Hart Benton, and the rapidly changing locales from Munchkinland to Witches Castle and back are equally pleasing to the eye. Christopher L. Sheley is the show’s imaginative and accomplished scenic designer. In addition, conductor Jay Hahn’s pliant small orchestra delivers a zestful melodic range and richness; and the choreography from Mary Ripper-Baker is danced with energy and well-rehearsed precision. Though some dancers are clearly lighter on their feet than others, there is no outright flat-footedness or by-the-numbers rigidity to the ensemble — even children execute their moves like aspiring pros.

Levy could slow down his scene changes, though. We tend to forget that Dorothy and her friends are travelling from place to place; instead they seem to land too abruptly in certain scenes, dropping out of nowhere. Denizens of the Emerald City, for instance, look a little lost at first, and then a sort of ‘Wait, where are we again?’ moment ensues, and they begin. Oh, well. When in doubt, dance. And they do. This bunch can’t wait for the music to start, nor can we.

Yet the sly references made by the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion as to the divine source of their creation — “the Lord” — at the top of their solos, are violating and should be promptly removed. Harburg and author L. Frank Baum would howl at the insolence and presumption of such underhanded quackery, and rightfully so. Many in the audience at intermission and after the show complained of it.

If the principals occasionally act better than sing, or sing better than act, it is evident only in the beginning of their journey to Oz, and not jarring. By the time they are off to see the Wizard as a unit, they’re a united ensemble of their own, in full syncopation with the music and each other. The story either compensates or allows for varied acting approaches, even idiosyncratic ones, and there are a few moments of candid but pleasing awkwardness in this respect.

Still, Lacey Connell never fails to convince us of Dorothy’s feverish mix of astonishment and determination, and her longing to relocate somewhere “Over the Rainbow” is tenderly sung and sincere. Jason Lythgoe has all the jangly, loose-jointed charm of the Ray Bolger original, contrasting well with the athletic vigor of Zachary Guzman’s Tin Woodsman, and Brian Harris’ philosophically detached Cowardly Lion. Harris’ Lion seems to have spent many hours stoically wandering the forest, giving this ‘courage’ thing a good going-over; and Mr. Guzman bursts with an unsparing, downstage center fix of old-time vaudeville hoofing. Eryn Carman, Levy and Jen Lennon are seasoned performers, vividly expressive and clear, with powerful voices as the Wicked Witch, the fraudulent Oz, and Glinda respectively.

To Oz? To Oz.

The Wizard of Oz
Through Dec. 29, Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Tickets: $37-$47, $15 for students and kids; for more, call 634-5583 or visit csfineartcenter.org.



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