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BTO bringing ‘Wizard of Oz’ to Civic

4/24/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Ballet Theatre of Ohio will perform “The Wizard of Oz” May 3-4 at the Akron Civic Theatre.
Photo courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Ohio
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Ballet Theatre of Ohio (BTO) is bringing Artistic Director Christine Meneer’s full-length ballet production of “The Wizard of Oz” to the Akron Civic Theatre stage May 3-4.

Meneer serves as both choreographer and costume designer for this production. For the costumes, Meneer credited the talents of seamstresses Barbara Kelly and Deborah Wilhite as leaders of a team that put together more than 140 elaborately detailed costumes. According to Meneer, they are “over the top” as her designs tend to be, like they are in her annual and highly attended “Nutcracker.”

For “The Wizard of Oz,” Meneer even came up with a costume to convey the tornado effect that sends young Dorothy (Joanna Sullivan) on her way to the enchanted land. The costume “looks like a tornado,” Meneer added, and the person in it will whirl and twirl across the stage as thunderous music plays in the background to complete the atmospheric purpose.

Music is a special feature that Meneer works conscientiously on for her story ballets, she said. For “The Wizard of Oz,” she has compiled a collection of “various ballet music” recordings and mixed them to match the action and characters in performance, she said.

“The music sounds like it was made for the ballet,” Meneer said. “You can hear Glinda [the good witch from the North] twinkling, the Munchkins tiptoeing in flowers and the Tin Man clanging” in the music.

“It all works perfectly,” Meneer said.

Local artist Jack Ballance designed the set, Meneer said, which includes a brightly colored Munchkin Land, the ominous Witch’s Castle and the Emerald City.

The three major sets actually mirror the narrative line of the three-act ballet. Act I features Dorothy leaving Kansas and landing in Munchkin Land as she meets those characters and ends with her teaming up with her three traveling and eager-to-see-the-wizard friends — the Scarecrow (Gary Lenington), the Cowardly Lion (Kelly Meneer) and the Tin Man (Damien Highfield).

Act II, Meneer said, covers the action for the travelers going through the Land of Poppies and ending up in the Witch’s Castle, where they see the likes of the flying monkeys and soldiers. Here they meet the Wicked Witch of the West (Amy Ott), who dissolves into oblivion at the end of the act.

The Good Witch of the North will be performed by Kit Smart.

Act III takes place in Emerald City as part of “the huge celebration” that all is well in their land, Meneer said.

Story ballets require acting talent, as well as dancing technique. Meneer gave huge credit to Jerry Burr, former professor of dance at The University of Akron. He has provided “the charm of the ballet,” Meneer has said. Burr’s “mastery of the art of pantomime in dance makes it possible for all ages to easily follow the story without words,” Meneer said.

As with most BTO ballets, this one becomes a kind of event for the younger audience members. Doors will open one hour prior to the performance. To get youngsters into the spirit, the Mayor of Munchkin Land will present children with a “Passport to Oz” and will invite them to meet the “pint-sized” Oz characters, Meneer said. Anyone dressed up as their favorite Oz character or wearing red shoes will receive a raffle ticket for a family of four to win a BTO season subscription package worth $300.

Performance times are May 3 at 2 and 7 p.m. and May 4 at 2 p.m. Tickets range in price from $18 to $38 and are available at the Civic Theatre Box Office, by calling 330-253-2488 or visiting www.akroncivic.com. Discounted tickets are available when you call the Civic Theatre and use the code WSL414. The Akron Civic is located at 182 S. Main St.

 

Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and board director of the Dance Critics Association. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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