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'Wizard of Oz' impresses; Ballet Theatre season ends in style

DanceMusicThe Wizard of Oz (movie, 1939)ConcertsMovies

Every fan of the 1939 classic film "The Wizard of Oz" should plan to travel to Columbia during the next two months to visit the magical land of Oz at Toby's Dinner Theatre.

Toby's production brings the beloved screen characters — Dorothy and friends Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion — live and up close to us so we feel we are traveling with them along the Yellow Brick Road.

Director David James moves this film classic to 2012 with increased magic created by his fabulous cast and by using special effects including swirling tornadoes, fearsome thunderclaps and lightning flashes along with billowing smoke. James is assisted in this magic making by lighting designer Jimmy Engelkemier and sound designer/stage manager Drew Dedrick. Together the trio dazzles us throughout, bringing high-tech wizardry to the Wizard himself at his headquarters in the Emerald City.

Costume designer Samn Huffer creates a fantasy of brightly colored costumes for the Munchkins, a fabulous pink gown for Good Witch Glinda, a simple black one for the Witch of the West. Dorothy's blue and white checkered pinafore is accessorized with sparkling ruby slippers. The Tin Man's costume seems constructed of kitchen metals, and the Scarecrow is stuffed to overflowing with straw. The Cowardly Lion's impressive mane establishes his authority while his long tail suggests silly vulnerability.

Choreographer Paula Lynn fashions stunning cyclones as dancers' fabric whirls above their heads and creates charming dances for Munchkins. Dorothy and her friends skip delightedly along the Yellow Brick Road.

Director James has assembled a dream cast starting with Julia Lancione, who creates an optimistic, adventurous Dorothy, seeming no older than age 15. Lancione's Dorothy bravely confronts the Wicked Witch of the West and the formidable Wizard. Lancione's singing is excellent throughout including her heart-felt "Over the Rainbow" — Harold Arlen's iconic tune that Judy Garland made her own.

James recreates his 1998 Helen Hayes Award-winning Scarecrow role. Incredibly loose-limbed, James' Scarecrow delivers "If I Only Had a Brain" to establish his triple-threat status as a singer, dancer and actor.

As the Tin Man, David Gregory moves in graceful, hesitant steps as if his joints are constantly in need of oil, winding down on choreographed cue. Gregory does full justice to "If I Only Had a Heart."

Annapolis native David Bosley-Reynolds returns to one of his favorite roles, playing the Cowardly Lion for the sixth time — the third at Toby's, which may mark Reynolds' greatest success to date in channeling Bert Lahr's ferociously funny original MGM Lion. Reynolds delivers brilliant solos in "If I Only Had the Nerve" and "King of the Forest."

As Glinda the Good Witch, Heather Marie Beck looks and sounds lovely throughout the show from her first song encouraging the Munchkins to come out of hiding.

Annapolis resident Tina DeSimone is deliciously nasty as mean neighbor Almira Gulch and resurfaces later as the fiendishly evil green-faced Wicked Witch of the West — a role she defines with her fearsome cackle that might unnerve the bravest theater-goer among us.

Another noteworthy performance is Jeffrey Shankle's in three roles — as Professor Marvel, the all-knowing Wizard of Oz and his zealous Guard.

"The Wizard of Oz" runs through July 1. Order tickets by calling 410-730-8311.

Ballet season ends

Last weekend, Ballet Theatre of Maryland closed its season with three performances of an eclectic Director's Choice program that began with Dianna Cuatto's 2005 new-age jazz ballet "Primal Dreams." This was followed by a traditional pas de deux from "Don Quixote" elegantly danced by Erica Wong and Django Allegretti. Next on the program was a new abstract work, "Solitude," choreographed by BTM ballet mistress Meagan Helman. The program concluded with "Reflections on Grace," choreographed by Cuatto in 2008 in tribute to Grace Gelinas Clark, founder of the Annapolis Civic Ballet Company, who brought dance to students of all cultural backgrounds.

Each selection was beautifully performed. Here we concentrate only on Helman's new work and Cuatto's tribute to Clark.

Danced to intriguing music by contemporary Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, Helman's intense, often rushing contemplative choreography matched the musical accompaniment.

"Solitude" displayed constantly evolving patterns as dancers in diaphanous white or black costumes danced in ensemble and separately, as solo female dancers expressing freedom. Male dancers costumed in white shirts and black pants formed a vigorous trio, briefly pairing with female dancers to form ever-evolving patterns. At the end a lone female dancer defined solitude.

Danced to Robert Schumann's Etudes, "Reflections on Grace" reveals influences on Clark, including her study with innovative dancers Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis. Photographs and various news articles are projected during the ballet, while Grace is portrayed in mirror image by two dancers — here Kathryn Carlson as Grace and Valerie Walker as her Reflection.

Events portrayed include Grace's meeting her future husband, Ellery Harding Clark Jr. on a blind date, their wedding in 1935, and settling in Annapolis where he taught at the Naval Academy. While her husband was away during World War II, Grace began teaching ballet, welcoming students of all races to the dance classes she first taught at her home.

This trail-blazing, free-spirited woman, who shared her passion for dance with every student who appreciated it, lived a life worthy of celebration, as Cuatto has sensitively executed.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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DanceMusicThe Wizard of Oz (movie, 1939)ConcertsMovies
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