June Chandler’s Fairytale Theatre Gives Youngsters Their First Magical Step into OZ
By Courtney Blackburn
It’s the cast! Back row L to R: Dan Ellis, Ian Dawson, Ron Johnston, Hal Sweesy, Lynda Rohrbacher. Front row: Shirley McConnell, Donna Ieraci, Steve Cipriani. -Courtesy Photo
Strains of Judy Garland’s classic “Over the Rainbow” float gently in the cool, dim theatre. The chatter of excited children, with new “Munchkin” costumes and bright green Munchkin hats, comes more strongly to the ear. All around, the stage is set, with bales of hay and painted trees, hinting at the wonderment of what is about to occur. Suddenly, at a prompt curtain time of 11:05 AM on a hot Saturday morning, the doors close abrubtly and all lights vanish, and the distressed cries of one Dorothy Gale are barely heard over the sudden windstorm playing over the speakers. Some children shriek in fright, but soon enough they are all thrust into the magical world of Oz, as one million (or so it seemed) sparkling stars came out to dance in the dark and the beautiful music again began to play.
This is the beginning of the participation musical “The Wizard of Oz” from June Chandler’s Fairytale Theatre, and old and much-beloved stage play that allows children (and even adults, if they’re so inclined) to not only watch the story, but help and interact with the characters as they struggle on their journey. From other successes “Cinderella” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, this theatre troupe brings the magic of Oz to the Sierra Madre Playhouse. And what a journey it is.
Dorothy (Donna Ieraci) appears in all her youthful verve and pigtailed glory, staring out warily at the new land she’s arrived in. Her faithful Toto (Steve Cipriani), a little larger, whiter, and more in-tune than the original canine actor, barks his confusion. But the arrival of Glinda the Good Witch (Shirley McConnell) provides some much-needed comfort…and the discovery that Dorothy’s Kansasian-bred house has, indeed, crushed a Wicked Witch. Glinda, with a wisdom and twinkle in her eye that can only come from someone who knows very much and has a little too much fun, informs the surprised Dorothy that the formerly-living Wicked Witch’s ruby slippers are now hers. Joyfully, Dorothy asks the munkchins to join in the song “Ding, Dong, The Witch is Dead” to celebrate the occasion.
Unfortunately, the song does not provide for “all” the witches, and the famously green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West (Lynda Rohrbacher) strides on stage with grief and fury. It turns out that Wicked Witch of the East was her sister, and she swears revenge on incredulous Dorothy, whose only crime was landing in a wayward house.
The story is a familiar one, and Dorothy begins her quest with faithful Toto, traveling the yellow brick road (which, in this theatre, runs down and behind the aisles, cleverly painted to look like bright yellow bricks). This road is often traveled, around and in-between, as Dorothy meets and collects the thoughtful Scarecrow (Dan Ellis), the tender-hearted Tinman (Ron Johnston), and the blustering but Cowardly Lion (Ian Dawson). Together, these characters sing familiar songs (overhead: the cheery tune of “If I Only Had a Brain”) and make their way through the yellow brick road, taking detours to dance with munchkins along the way and banter in a light-hearted manner.
After a delightful rendition of the probably copyrighted tune “We’re Off to See the Wizard”, the quartet and Toto finally reach the Emerald City, which is simply a world of green lights. They find that the proverbial “Man behind the curtain” is actually a little man with bushy eyebrows on a tall ladder. The Great and Terrible Oz (Hal Sweesy) is terribly apologetic and squirming as he informs the group of his humbuggery, and the fact that the Wicked Witch of the West’s broomstick is the only thing that might solve all their problems.
Another journey through the field of children, and the adventurers confront the Wicked Witch of the West. We all know the rest–there is melting, a song, a journey back to Mr. Oz, and the presentation by munchkin of the coveted “wishes”—diploma, heart, and war medallion—while Dorothy is whisked away by her ruby slippers. The ruby slippers, in this particular musical, carry her and the rest of the triumphant cast to the front of the Sierra Madre Playhouse, where they happily pose for photographs and sign autographs for their munchkin audience.
“The Wizard of Oz”, as unfortunately as it is fortunate, is present in our culture to the point of oversaturation. This speaks to the iconic and endearing impression made upon our collective minds and hearts…but also means that most of us can easily tire of yet another version of Dorothy and Toto’s travels in that strange land. But! For a first-time foray into this pop culture phenomenon, there is no better way to step into Oz than to literally be a part of it. And June Chandler’s Fairytale Theatre joyfully invites everyone to step into the Marvelous Land of Oz with their production of the magical, wonderful,”The Wizard of Oz.”
“Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz”. At Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, CA 91024. Parking is free and plentiful behind the theatre. June 2 – July 7, 2012. Saturdays at 11 a.m. Adults, $18. Children 12 and under, $12. Call (626) 355-4318 or visit online at www.sierramadreplayhouse.org for more information. New! Visit June Chandler’s Fairytale Theatre on Youtube.