Monday, June 27, 2016

The Wiz—Allen Elizabethan (Outdoor) Theatre (OSF)—Ashland, OR

Home is Where the Heart is

This Oregon Shakespeare Festival musical production is by William F. Brown (book) and Charlie Smalls (music and lyrics) from L. Frank Baum’s classic story, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” and directed for the stage by Robert O’Hara, musical direction by Darcy Danielson and choreographed by Byron Easley.  It plays at their outdoor theatre space, in rotation, through October 15th.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 800-219-8161.

This is not a remake, nor a sequel, to the immortal, “The Wizard of Oz,” but rather, a reimagining.  It is set in modern day and follows, like the classic tale, the journey of Dorothy (Ashley D. Kelley), a young girl from a farm in Kansas, to find her Destiny.  And, in so many stories of this kind, it is the Journey, not the Destination that is important.  Also, as often happens, what you are seeking has been right in front of you all the time.  But the Journey is necessary, as you must always go “over the rainbow” to be able to appreciate what you already have, not unlike the young lovers in The Fantasticks, where they learn that  Happiness must be Earned, not manufactured or taken for granted.

You probably know the story, but for the one or two who are not familiar with it, I’ll recap, as some changes are made.  For instance, Toto does not go to the Emerald City; the magic shoes are silver, not Ruby (although, in the book, they are silver slippers, changed to red for the film, because it was in color); there is the Good Witch of the South, Addaperle (Michele Mais), added to the cast; and the Professor Marvel character is reduced in size.  But the story remains, for the most part, in tack with, as mentioned, some marvelous reimagining.

Once the tornado thrusts Dorothy into the Land of Oz and her house crushes the Wicked Witch of the East, the Munchkins direct her to the Yellow Brick Road, which will lead her to the Emerald City, where she is to locate The Wiz (Jordan Barbour), who will get her back to Kansas.  Along the way she will meet the Scarecrow (J. Cameron Barnett), who is seeking brains, the Tinman (Rodney Gardiner), who wants a heart, and the Queen of the Lions (Christiana Clark), who is a coward and wants courage.

But, upon meeting The Wiz, he is willing to grant them their wishes for doing him just a teeny-weeny, little favor…killing the Wicked Witch of the West, Evillene (Yvette Monique Clark).  But, as it turns out, even after completing this task, The Wiz proves to be a bit of a charlatan and, although able to sweet talk his way through most of the favors requested, is unable to get Dorothy back home.  But it seems, she had the power all the time to get there, as Glinda (Britney Simpson), The Good Witch of the North, explains….and I think we all know what that is and how she eventually gets Home.

Some of the songs and dances are quite outstanding, such as the exciting, “Tornado Ballet;” the famous, “Ease on Down the Road;” the show-stopping songs (and dances) from the Tinman (Gardiner), “Slide Some Oil to Me,” and What Would I Do if I Could Feel;” the provocative, “Be a Lion” (Clark & Kelley); the outstanding, “No Bad News” (Y. Clark); the touching, “Believe in Yourself” (Barbour and Simpson); and the beautiful, “Home” (Kelley).  All the cast is exceptional but my favorites of the leads were Gardiner and Y. & C. Clark.

But, to me, the real “stars” of the shows was the ensemble, the gay gatekeeper, the chief monkey, the Munchkins, the trio, like a Greek chorus and those exceptional dancers.  The roles are not identified by name, so I will just list all the ensemble:  Tramell Tillman, Cedric Lamar, Jonathan Luke Stevens, Briawna Jackson, Tatiana Lofton, Jennie Greenberry, Desmond Nunn and Eean S. Cochran.  Anyone in the biz knows the importance of those doing supporting roles (and behind the scenes) but here is a chance to really see those individuals shine!

O’Hara has kept the special effects more low-key or simpler and it works, as it keeps the play moving at a brisker pace and forces the audiences to use their imaginations more.  Well done.  The costumes (Dede M. Ayite) are amazingly colorful and inventive.  And the choreography by Easley is extraordinary!  To me, this was the highlight of the show, along with all the chorus numbers (Danielson).

We are never too young to Dream, for it’s the Dreams that keep us sane.  And to prove that there may also still be such things as miracles, there is a popular story in Hollywood that there was a world-wide search for the colorful coat for Professor Marvel.  One day, one of the crew found such a jacket in a second-hand store, and it was used in the film.  It was discovered later that, along the collar, in faded letters, was the name of the original owner, L. Frank Baum!

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.



The Ashland Experience, part II

Once again, my favorite places to stay are the Ashland Springs Hotel www.ashlandspringshotel.com  212 E. Main St., in downtown Ashland (next door to OSF), or the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites www.ashlandhillshotel.com , 2525 Ashland St. (near the college, where I’ve stayed the last two times).  The Springs site has secured parking and is an easy walk to OSF and many of the restaurants and shops in downtown Ashland.  The Hills site, 541-482-8310, has an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi.  Both offer substantial breakfasts as part of the cost, consisting of yogurt, cereals, bagels/toast, hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit, pancakes, juices, and coffee/tea.

The rooms are very comfortable and offer Internet connections and TV’s.  And the staff is really special, always willing to help and go the “extra mile” when necessary, to make your stay more comfortable.  I’ve experienced this generous nature with Karolina, Lisa and Darby, all class people, as far as I’m concerned.

I highly recommend these places.  If you do choose to stay there, please tell them Dennis sent you.