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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Calvary Players’ ‘Oz’ big, ambitious

The church-community production captures the spirit of the famed musical.

PHOTO: Featured in the Calvary Players production of “The Wizard of Oz” are, from left, William Frailing as Scarecrow, Mary Delany Gilliam as Dorothy, Tim Olejniczak as the Cowardly Lion and Jerry Bellin as Tin Man. Calvary Players photo

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – “Heh, heh, heh – I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!” Ah, what can beat the good ol’ Wicked Witch of the West and her carryings on in the beloved “The Wizard of Oz”? That zest is injected into the Calvary Players’ production of the classic story that’s done up full over 2½ hours. Performances in the Calvary Lutheran Church’s multipurpose room on Green Bay’s west side continue through next weekend; ticket info: ShowTix4U.com.

Is this a church production? Yes and no. Yes, Calvary Players is part of the church’s mission and includes congregation members. But productions always – they’re in their 23rd year – involve performers/creative folks from the community. The list of credits for “The Wizard of Oz” reads like credits for many Green Bay area musicals and plays. Many of the people involved simply like to put on shows; this is just another opportunity to apply their skills.

Family participation is part of this production. At the final curtain, adult performers are joined for bows by their child performers. Many kids were in the audience of the performance I attended Saturday night, March 1. They paid attention; “The Wizard of Oz” has that effect.

The aura is different. Folks can munch popcorn, eat candy or sip soda at this show. And lots of light-up pop flowers are scattered in the audience to be turned on during the “Poppies” scene.

The production has limitations of space and means, but much is made up for with imagination. Visuals projected on a large screen behind the stage include photos of rural Kansas, a tornado and videos of characters in off-stage situations. The section with the tornado includes Green Bay humor as the whirling wind carries off not only farm animals and folks but Lambeau Field and Aaron Rodgers.

Performances are endearing. The show is so close to hearts that nobody wants to mess up, and the love is infused into what happens on stage. Mary Delaney Gilliam is comfortable as Dorothy, singing beautifully in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and cheerfully in “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” dancing smoothly along with songs and generally being a clear picture of Dorothy. Ann Preiss Gray is outstanding as Miss Gultch and the Wicked Witch of the West – every mean streak, every cackle, every smoky-slinky arrival to unleash something detestable on Dorothy and her friends. The role is big, and Gray has an even bigger role as choreographer – adding movement all over the place and especially in “The Jitterbug,” a massive production number with an exhausting burst of fast and furious dancing by a maniacal corps. The Scarecrow (William Frailing), Tin Man (Jerry Bellin) and Cowardly Lion (Tim Olejniczak) are charming. A surprise is the mobility of Frailing, whose Scarecrow dances deftly, with a cartwheel thrown in.

Costuming and make-up have the signs of practiced hands. Costuming budget challenges are made up for color, style and flair. Dorothy has the girlish look (and ruby slippers), and the good and bad witches are right on. In make-up, the two flying monkeys and the Wicked Witch are particularly vivid.

While not elaborate, the set pieces serve their functions well; the projections fill in some blanks.

Overall, the production has a mark of steady hands at the wheel, led by Michael Ajango. The venture is certainly a hybrid and likable (4 stars out of 5).

***

Songs/scenes

Act I

“Over the Rainbow,” Dorothy

Tornado

Munchkinland: “Come Out, Come Out,” “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” Glinda, Dorothy and Munchkins

“If I Only Had a Brain,”Scarecrow, Dorothy and Crows

“We’re Off to See the Wizard,” Dorothy and Scarecrow

“If I Only Had a Heart,” Tin Man, Dorothy and Apple Trees

“We’re Off to See the Wizard,” Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man

“If I Only Had the Nerve,” Cowardly Lion, Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man

“We’re Off to See the Wizard,” Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion

“Poppies,” Glinda and Female Ensemble

“Optimistic Voices”/Act I Finale, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Glinda and Company

Act II

“Optimistic Voices,” Female Ensemble

“The Merry Old Land of Oz,” Emerald City Guard and Company

“If I Were King of the Forest,” Lion, Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man

“March of the Winkies,” Winkie Guards

“The Jitterbug,” Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion and Jitterbugs

“Over the Rainbow (Reprise),” Dorothy

“March of the Winkies (Reprise),” Winkie Guards, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion

“Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead (Reprise)” – Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion and Company

Finale, Company

***

Cast: Dorothy, Mary Delaney Gilliam; Miss Gultch/Wicked Witch of the West, Ann Preiss Gray; William Frailing, Scarecrow/Hunk; Jerry Bellin, Tin Man/Hickory; Tim Olejniczak, Cowardly Lion/Zeke; Cassidy Heim-Dittmer, Glinda, Jitterbug, assistant director; Keith Lutz, Professor Marvel/Wizard of Oz; James Marker, Uncle Henry, Munchkin Coroner, Ozian Guard; Elizabeth Zitny, Aunt Em, Tree, Ozian, Winkie; …. David Annis, Munchkin Mayor, Ozian, Winkie; Carson Bellin, Munchkin Lollypop Guild; Jacob Bellin, Munchkin Lollypop Guild; Molly Bellin, Snowflake Fairy; Nathan Bellin, Munchkin Lollypop Guild; Nicole Bodart, Ozian, Winkie; “Bones” Heim, Toto (a Yorkshire terrier); Quiana Dear, Munchkin, Snowflake Fairy; Natalie Ditmer, Munchkin Lullabye League, Crow, Jitterbug Jr.; Andrew Frailing, Munchkin, Nikko; Olivia Frailing, Snowflake Fairy; Emma Fry, Munchkin, Winkie; Amy Halbmaier, Queen, Jitterbug, Ozian; Anna Halbmaier, Snowflake Fairy; Carol Harris, Munchkin Elder, Tree, Jitterbug, Ozian; Grace Krause, Munchkin Lullabye League, Jitterbug Jr.; Sydney Kugel, Chorus; Anna Kupsh, Munchkin; Julia Ledvina, Winkie, Ozian, Chorus; Brittany Luna, Jitterbug, Ozian, Winkie; Ettoile Luna, Snowflake Fairy; Abigail Martinson, Munchkin School Teacher, Jitterbug, Ozian; Jeff Martinson, Munchkin Barrister, Ozian, Winkie General; Kate Micoliczyk, Munchkin, Niko assistant; Mia Miner, Munchkin Braggart; Madeline Miner, Munchkin, Ozian; Olivia Olejniczak, Munchkin Lullabye League; Michelle Oren, Jitterbug, Ozian, Winkie; Megan Schauer, Munchkin-Fiddle, Crow, Jitterbug Jr.; Evelyn Scrubas, Munchkin; June Ellen Scrubas, Munchkin Woman, Crow; Olive Scrubas, Munchkin, Snowflake Fairy; Melissa Terrell, Jitterbug, Ozian, Winkie; Miriam Wygralak, Snowflake Fairy; Angela Thielke Zuidmulder, Munchkin Elder, Tree, Ozian, Jitterbug; Ethan Zuidmulder, Munchkin.

Creative: Story of L. Frank Baum adapted by John Kane from the motion picture screenplay for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Michael Ajango, director; Ann Preiss Gray, choreography; Janet Ajango, costumes; Warren Elliott, set design; Lois A. Gegare, make-up; Jack Rhyner and Ted O. Rhyner, tech-lighting.

***

VENUE: Calvary Lutheran Church’s multipurpose room is set up with a raised stage with seating in a semicircle for about 300. In essence for this production it is a large black-box theater. The ceiling is about three stories high, with the steel structure reminiscent of an airplane hangar. All the world, it seems, can be a stage.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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