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HomeArtStage West Cast Excels in “The Wizard of Oz”

Stage West Cast Excels in “The Wizard of Oz”

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Attending a dress rehearsal is a great opportunity to see a “masterpiece in progress” and watch a production in the final stages of preparation for its premiere. Despite some challenges, such as having the costume and lighting designers leave just three weeks prior to the end of rehearsals, the show eventually fell into place for director Charlene Adams, who has had a hand in producing this play a total of four times.

Ms. Adams has been in theatre since the fourth grade when she played the part of one of the children in a high school production of “The Sound of Music.” She has done acting directing and music directing for more than two decades.

“I love the creative process of bringing a show from words on a page to a living, breathing story on stage,” she remarks.

Ms. Adams enjoys two facets of theater. One is “watching the transformation
in the actors when they work so hard to create a character, learn dances and blocking and then put it all together.” The other is “seeing the cast go from relative strangers to a cohesive bonded group.”

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The Stage West production of “The Wizard of Oz,” which premiered last weekend, was a panoply of colorful costumes, creative sets, special effects, professional-quality choreography, heartfelt acting, and pitch-perfect singing. From the moment nineteen-year-old Shawna Hopper stepped onto the stage, she became Dorothy Gale. It was partly her short stature and partly her mannerisms and voice. In my opinion, she portrayed the main character better than Judy Garland, who was seventeen when the movie was filmed. Shawna had a clear, pitch-perfect singing voice and every word could be understood.

Shawna has been acting since she was in seventh grade when she landed a role in “Seussical, Jr.” She describes playing Dorothy as her “dream role” and she has lofty ambitions for other leading roles. She’d like to play Carrie in the musical version of “Carrie” and Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.”

As with any other passion, there are rewards, but there are also challenges.
“Finding the balance with portraying the character correctly, while bringing aspects of myself into it, also the challenge of memorizing material while balancing college work, my job, etc.,” are some obstacles that Shawna has to overcome. She has an interesting way of dealing with the first challenge.

“For bringing myself into the character, I enjoy modernizing the types of characters I play, such as making music playlists of what they would listen to, writing character biographies, etc.,” she remarks.

All the actors were believable in the way they played their parts, many of whom had multiple roles. Jacob Marko, Liam Lencsak and Kristoff Stens each had dual roles, portraying the hired hands on her uncle’s farm and Dorothy’s companions on her adventure. These were Zeke/the Cowardly Lion, Hickory/the Tin Man, and Hunk/the Scarecrow, respectively.

Jacob Marko got an early start in theatre. He was in his first performance, “Broadway Babies,” when he was in kindergarten. His ambition is to portray a superhero like Spiderman or Batman in the movies.

Liam Lencsak also got an early start in acting at the tender age of five. It’s a passion with him, especially musical theatre. Liam has had some starring roles in the past, such as Gomez Addams in “The Addams Family” and the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Kristoff Stens loves being in the theatre because a play allows the audience to forget about their troubles, at least temporarily. He enjoyed his role in “The Wizard of Oz” because it’s comedic and has a vaudevillian feel with a lot of physicality.

George Friel played both Professor Marvel, the traveling showman, and the Wizard of Oz in an endearing, bumbling manner. He’s had a number of other memorable roles in his theatre life. His favorites were Teddy, a Vietnam Veteran, in the play “When You Coming Back Red Rider” and the ghost of John Barrymore in ” I Hate Hamlet.”

In speaking of what’s rewarding about acting, George quips, “That given the right role, you can move people to hug you or kick you, the result is, either way, your treatment of the craft is a success.”

Ashley Provo is equally detestable as both the mean Miss Gulch, who tries to take Toto away from Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West, whose goal is to steal Dorothy’s ruby slippers. But the actor who stole the show was Toto, played by Captain Jack, an adorable terrier (I think). He barked on cue, stood on his hind legs, obediently walked on the leash and really got into his part.

The orchestral music fit the scenes. There was eerie music when the quartet was walking in the haunted forest, uplifting music when they started out on their adventure and just about everything in between. Every actor sang in almost perfect pitch and I didn’t hear anyone “bobble a line” or miss a note.

The costumes were practically every color of the rainbow and very inventive. For example, in the scene with the scarecrow, a group of crows portrayed by actors dressed in black wearing black and white ball caps taunts the scarecrow. Since the actors played multiple roles, that meant several costume changes. There were also a number of dance sequences that added to the show’s appeal.

The dialogue was clever, as well. There were numerous puns uttered by the characters. For example, when Dorothy and her companions are in a grove of apple trees, the trees come to life and one of them says, “How do you like them apples.” Another example occurred when one of the trees talked about the dangers of the Haunted Forest. The tree said, “If I lived there, I’d be petrified!”

In theatre, unlike in most films, the scenery is far from realistic. Sometimes, you have to use your imagination to fully understand what each set is conveying. The crew has to build the scenery and paint it. They have to find the right furniture and other objects, whether they’re an oversized hourglass or a crystal ball, to make the play come alive.

Lighting is another important aspect that lends atmosphere to the show. There were a number of clever special effects that added to the overall production. Projections of a tornado and objects flying through the sky were used during one of the first sequences. Then, towards the end of the play, when Dorothy and her three friends are outside the Wizard’s palace, there’s artificial smoke and a projection of an intimidating wizard, which is literally “smoke and mirrors.”

So many people are involved in a production like this to make it a success that it would be impossible to name them all. You’ll just have to attend the play and see the program to find out who they are. Here’s a list of some of the actors, besides the ones I mentioned previously, along with the person or persons whom they’re portraying:
Ian Arencibia…..Uncle Henry/Guard; Ashley Provo…..Aunt Em/Glinda, the good witch; Beccy Porter…..Almira Gulch/the wicked witch.

If you want to have a fun-filled escape from reality, then don’t miss Stage West’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Seats are still available for the shows this weekend, which will be the final performances. The play closes on Sunday, Jan. 28. Admission is $28 for adults and $20 for students. You can order the tickets online at www.stagewestflorida.com or phone 352- 683-5113. You can also purchase them at the theatre box office, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd. in Spring Hill, which is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

The witch’s guards. [Credit: Sarah Nachin]
The witch’s guards. [Credit: Sarah Nachin]
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