Horray! With its latest production at the Arkley Center of “a re-imagined” musical version of the beloved classic “The Wizard of Oz,” Main Stage Humboldt showcases its ongoing evolution as one of the most reliably excellent, artistic forces to be reckoned with in local theater.
This determined nonprofit had its start after a small, dedicated group of artists in the area (headed by Daphne Endert, still their administrator) got together to form a company that would perform new musical works — and in 2014 they did so after becoming an Ink People DreamMaker project.
Their stated mission was: “To engage and inspire through innovative theatrical experiences and dynamic youth arts education.” Their vision statement: “Through fostering collaboration between community artisans and professional artists nationwide, Main Stage seeks to strengthen the artistic, cultural and economic development of Humboldt County.”
And, they began that journey in 2015, producing “a season of musicals at the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts annually” that has been “centered around producing reimagined classics and new works” — an increasingly challenging journey that has led them to their current, imaginative, entertaining staging of “The Wizard of Oz.” Mission accomplished indeed!
Of course, the story itself is based on author L. Frank Baum’s popular 1900-era book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” This was adapted into a successful play in l902 and an even more widely acclaimed classic film version in 1939, which continued to enchant children (and adults) after being shown on television for many years.
It was reimagined once again in1987 when John Kane adapted the original motion picture’s screenplay (and included its memorable songs) into a musical version that was staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company. And, is the one now being performed by Main Stage at the Arkley.
Cleverly using a minimum of mostly abstract set pieces (often carried by the actors themselves), with authentic 1930’s film- like backdrops and special lighting effects, the end result is absolutely magical.
To remind you, “The Wizard of Oz” follows the adventures of spunky young Kansas farm girl Dorothy (perfectly portrayed and stunningly sung by Mackenzie Urch) and her little dog Toto (scene-stealing pup Pippin) after they’re blown away by a cyclone into a magical land “beyond the rainbow” called Oz.
She does so after hitting her head during the storm, leaving behind her Aunt Em (Jen Hildrith), Uncle Henry (Zack Rouse) and three friendly farm workers named Hunk (Reagan Geach), Hank (Rouse) and Zeke (Eliza Klinger-Rouse).
As well as the beyond-mean Miss Gulch (Finn Ferguson), who has taken Toto (after he supposedly “bit her”) to have him destroyed.
But, after the spunky canine escapes from the basket he’s been stuffed into on Gulch’s bicycle, he runs back to Dorothy and she decides to grab him and run away from home to save him from that “wicked witch of a woman.”
However, not too far from the farm, she encounters a quirky, kindly fellow who claims to be a “psychic” who calls himself Professor Marvel (Todd Hoberecht) and convinces her to go back home.
Unfortunately, when she gets there, the cyclone has driven her family and friends into the storm cellar. So, she hides in the house, and when it’s picked up and swirled around inside the storm that’s when she hits her head. And she wakes up in Munchkinland “away above the chimney tops” in the kingdom of Oz — after making “quite an entrance.”
It seems her house has fallen on, and killed, an extremely unpopular Wicked Witch (much appreciated by the local Munchkins). There, she also encounters a fascinating array of eclectic, memorable characters (including some of whom seem “strangely familiar somehow” to people she left behind in Kansas).
And that, of course, includes the three who become her new best friends and traveling companions who agree to accompany Dorothy to the Emerald City. That’s where (after following “the yellow brick road”) they’ll meet the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who could possibly give each of them what they want the most:
• The Scarecrow, who wants a brain (a great, goofy Geach)
• The Tin Man, who longs for a heart (the terrific Rouse)
• The Cowardly Lion, who yearns for some courage (a delightfully daffy Klinger-Rouse)
•And Dorothy herself. She just wants to go home with loyal Toto, back to Kansas and the people she loves and misses so much.
But, before all of the above can possibly happen, there will soon be many obstacles to overcome before the once-he’s-revealed, “humbug” Wizard (an endearing Hoberecht) can grant their wishes.
In the process, Dorothy meets countless fascinating (sometimes dangerous) citizens of Oz. They include the Good Witch, Glinda (a charming Hildreth), who makes sure she gets the deceased witch’s magical ruby slippers that witch’s even meaner sister, the Wicked Witch (the marvelously menacing Ferguson), who’s determined to get them back (and get rid of Dorothy, her companions, and “her little dog too”).
However, as most of you already know, no matter how many trials and tribulations Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion experience (during the production’s running time of two acts in two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission), a happy ending awaits them all. Unless you’re a Wicked Witch.
And, there’s obviously also a lively cast of ensemble roles (made up of youthful Main Stage actors) who add immensely to the comedic (but often scary) proceedings while also impressively singing the big chorus numbers. And, just like in the movie, those iconic songs show up exactly where you remember them, from the famous solos to the ensemble’s equally unforgettable, vocal moments. These include “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “If I Only Had a Heart,” “If I Only Had the Nerve,” “The Merry Old Land of Oz,” “If I Were King of the Forest” and more.
With all of the excellent, pre-recorded musical score used throughout the show being played by professional musicians, this means that the music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg (and background music by Herbert Stothart) are “the real thing.” As are the dance and vocal arrangements by Peter Howard and the orchestration by Larry Wilcox. So, the cast always has the very best to accompany every number they perform.
And here are the names of the talented members of the acting, singing, dancing supporting ensemble (that feature members of Main Stage’s Young Performers Company playing multiple roles): Gemma Caruso, Madisyn Wood, Sasha Dronkers, Tenley Weeks, Ruby Sipma, Tabitha Becker, Ruby Smith, Everleigh Crocker, Lela Caruso, Clara Ross, Adeline Pierce, Pearl Samulski, Indigo McCoy-Olguin, Nya Bull Reynolds and Peyton Wolff.
Even younger kids in the cast include Frances Woody, Zae Justice, Charlie Swan, Zoey Wartburg, Abigail Smith, August Pierce, as well as (on Nov. 19 and 20) Audrinna Hinrichs, Anika Berg, Eloise Coan, Zoe Semingson and Harriet Stien. Performing this Friday through Sunday will be Ellie Cloutier, Mia Maraccini and Mikaela Maraccini.
Major kudos go to the show’s peerless director, Todd Hoberecht; youth musical director, Fiona Ryder; and youth supervisor, Abiona Katri. The stunning scenic design used backdrops (sepia-toned backgrounds that were in the movie) from TheatreWorld, and additional, strong, scenic elements were designed by Hoberecht.
The extensive, whimsical, character-based costume design was by Finn Ferguson (who also created the choreography with Daphne Endert) and Eliza Klinger-Rouse.
Technical director Chris Parreira expertly ran the all-important sound board and the superb lighting was designed and operated by Ryan Norton. Rail operation was solidly handled by Kira Galleway.
In case you didn’t know, for the first time ever, this is a two-weekend run of a Main Stage production. And this truly wonderful “Wizard of Oz” more than deserves it “because of the wonderful things he does!” So, see it!
The musical continues the run on Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; with a closing matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday. (Masks are optional, but recommended.)
Depending on seating location in the Arkley, the ticket prices are as follows for adults: $19, $28, $36 and $42. And children (12 and under), $17 any location. However, let me give you a warning. Some of the subject matter and actions of the “wicked characters” could be quite frightening to really young children, so keep that in mind before you bring them to the show.
To order/reserve your seats, call 707-200-1778 or go to https://www.mainstagehumboldt.org/. Tickets purchased online may be either printed at home or held at will call in the box office.
The Arkley is located at 412 G St., Eureka.