Bellerose captures magic of Oz
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 13, 2013 06:00 am
Wizard of Oz
Bellerose Composite High Musical Theatre
Feb. 13 to 15
Tickets: $15. Call Bellerose at 780-460-8490; also available at the door
There’s talent galore as Bellerose Composite High mounts its big winter musical from Feb. 13 to 15 at the Arden Theatre.
This year’s visual treat is a generational favourite, The Wizard of Oz. It’s such a popular classic that professional companies stage this timeless tale as a license to print money.
However, the Bellerose production promises to bring back the simplicity and raw energy of Frank Baum’s homespun novel.
“It has a kind of magic that carries on. The idea of dreams, the idea of wonder. It’s all there,” says director Mark Samuel, head of the performing arts program. Working in tandem with him is music director Karen Labahn.
In a quick recap, Dorothy Gale is an orphaned girl living with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. After an argument with a neighbour, she runs away from home with her dog Toto.
On the road she meets Professor Marvel, who reads her fortune, and reveals that Aunt Em has grown ill with worry over Dorothy’s absence. She races home, only to find a tornado approaching. Unable to get into the storm cellar, she runs into the house.
Knocked unconscious by a loose window, she begins to dream. Along with the house and Toto, she is swept from a sepia-toned home and deposited into the rainbow-coloured, magical and dangerous Land of Oz.
Much to her detriment, the house lands squarely on the Wicked Witch of the East. It kills her instantly and so starts the tale of revenge and revelation.
“Like any other piece of classic literature, it has appeal beyond the context of the times. What is relevant about it is that it’s a story of discovery about what is most important. For Dorothy it’s a realization that what is most important are her relatives,” Samuel adds.
Unlike previous Bellerose musicals, The Wizard of Oz puts heavy physical demands on the actors.
“In this production the actors have to maintain their characters in a physical way, whereas in previous shows such as last year’s Sweet Charity, they had to maintain an attitude,” Samuel says.
In a nod to the school’s bountiful population of actresses, Samuel has cast two young women as Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion.
Rachel Bokenfohr, last year’s Sweet Charity, is this year’s Scarecrow, the straw man whose dearest wish is to have a brain. Hoping the Wizard of Oz can help, he joins Dorothy for an adventure following the Yellow Brick Road.
“She comes with experience and that’s an asset. But Rachel is also six feet tall. She has a lanky figure and is a gifted actress.”
On the journey the duo meets the floppy, Cowardly Lion (Rachel Matichuk), who desperately seeks courage and joins the quest in hopes the Wizard will give him some.
“She’s in Grade 10. She sings like hell and is a very expressive actor. She has to portray his cowardice and moments of big bravura. The interesting part of the character is that it’s an intense performance of bravado that quickly unravels and shows the cowardice underneath.”
The third creature of this magical trio is the Tin Woodman (Jordan Poirier), who confesses he longs for a heart.
“Jordan has a kind of earnestness and is slightly shy that fits so well in the part. He’s also had to work on the physicality, but he’s alert, conscientious and committed,” Samuel says.
The fourth traveller is of course Dorothy in the lead role. Shaney Borden, who dipped her toes in theatre through Sweet Charity, knocked everyone’s socks off at auditions.
“She’s very sweet, but underneath there’s a fire. If you think of Judy Garland, there’s a sweetness but also husky undertones to her voice. When she sings the iconic Over The Rainbow, her voice is almost birdlike, but with a power underneath.”
Although Samuel delights in speaking about his students, he’s tight-lipped about the visual effects for the tornado scene, the wicked witch’s castle and Oz’s tricky prognostications.
But he would say that the magic is created by various modes: puppetry, digital projections, moving set pieces and sound effects.
“It’s a show every family will enjoy,” he said. “The characters are so loveable and the message is important and a reference for life. The other thing people will like will be the technical aspects, the surprises. We’ve attempted to create the magic of Oz, a world that relies on novelty and the suspension of disbelief.”