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August 14, 2012 > The Wizard of Oz: For kids, by kids

The Wizard of Oz: For kids, by kids

By Jessica Noel Flohr

"There's no place like home!" Dorothy Gale's mantra rings as true today as it did when L. Frank Baum first published it in his book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in 1900. This American fairy tale has taken root in the heart of popular culture. Just seeing the name of the story brings to mind the familiar chorus from the musical film starring the late Judy Garland. Baum's tale of a determined little girl from Kansas and her three companions resonates with the themes of family, home, and self-identity.

The Wizard of Oz, the creation of an imaginative, young, family man inspired by Alice in Wonderland and popular fairy tales, was a tremendous success upon publication. The first edition sold out within a month. Two years later, it was made into a play. Several film adaptations were created before the most popular version came out in 1939. In this version, Judy Garland sang her way into the hearts of Americans across the nation. The songs of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg are forever imprinted on the minds of young and old alike.

Seventy-three years later, Stage 1 Youth Theatre is performing this delightfully familiar presentation of The Wizard of Oz. The cast of children and teens brings to light the universal struggle to find self-worth and a sense of belonging. The fact that children are presenting this children's tale brings a unique perspective to the performance.

The first act opens on little Dorothy Gale, an orphan being raised by her aunt and uncle on a farm in Kansas. Dorothy's faithful companion is her dog Toto, played by a very lively little dog named Sunnie. (Sunnie's resistance to following the yellow brick road provided great comic relief for the audience throughout the performance.) Toto has allegedly bitten a cruel neighbor, who gets an order from the sheriff to have the dog destroyed. Dorothy decides to run away with Toto, but changes her mind after a clever traveling performer convinces her that she is missed at home. On her way back to the farm, a storm begins to brew - a tornado - which whisks Dorothy and her tiny farmhouse away to the magical Land of Oz.

Playing Dorothy in the Stage 1 Youth Theatre presentation of the Wizard of Oz is Madilyn Jaz Morrow. This enchanting young woman seemed to be channeling Judy Garland on opening night, when she gave a beautiful rendition of "Over the Rainbow." Stephanie Horn was fully invested in the role of the scarecrow, quivering, shaking, and losing straw all over. Other notable performances included Jaezali Silva as Glinda the Good Witch, Perry Hall as Uncle Henry, and the very adorable and energetic Zell Steele Morrow as the Mayor of Munchkin City.

The scenery is fairly sparse in the opening and to make ample use of the stage for dancing during the visit to the wizard. When Dorothy first lands in Oz, the scenery for Munchkin City brightens with flowers and little munchkin homes. The cast had a great time dancing, singing, and frolicking on stage. One little actress was not amused by the singing, however, and cutely plugged her ears, continuing with the dance. Children in the audience were drawn into the story, with one little girl crying out, "There she is!" when Uncle Henry and Professor Marvel are searching for Dorothy in the final scene.

Stage 1 Youth Theatre has provided an excellent production of a classic American fairy tale. The refreshing performance by the youth and children give a new perspective to the familiar story. It's a great opportunity to introduce children to theater! Snacks and drinks are sold during intermission, so there's a greater incentive for little ones to be attentive. Bring the family down to Stage 1 Theatre and rekindle the knowledge that there's truly no place like home.

The Wizard of OZ
August 19: 2:30 p.m.
August 17 & 18: 8:00 p.m.
Stage 1 Youth Theatre
39375 Cedar Blvd., Newark
(510) 791-0287
www.stage1theatre.org

General Admission: $15
Student (17 and under): $10

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