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Saturday, November 21, 2009
Excellent Musical Theater at American Fork High School

The celebrated magic of The Wizard of Oz is mostly lost on me and always has been. But the magic of American Fork High School's excellent performance of that musical last evening was not lost on me at all. This is a very enjoyable production, with much to recommend it.

I don't love The Wizard of Oz. Its celebrated magic is mostly lost on me and always has been. I don't suggest this as a badge of superiority; it is simply a fact which separates me from most of my family and, no doubt, from hundreds of millions of other people. However, I am fond of the theater, musical or otherwise, and I'm a fan of excellence achieved in any worthy endeavor (except those that involve cooking eggs, spinach, or squash). Therefore, I very much enjoyed attending American Fork High School's production of The Wizard of Oz last evening.

The auditorium was filled or nearly so. The cast was excellent in every respect, from diction and dancing to singing and . . . witchiness. Aly Rutter excelled in the lead role of Dorothy; among other things, she sings beautifully. The costumes and sets were clever and effective. The musical score was recorded, but this was only occasionally conspicuous -- it limits the actors' interpretation at times -- and the sound quality was very near lifelike.

Four performances remain, including a 2:00 p.m. matinee today and 7:00 p.m. performances tonight, Monday, and Tuesday. The show runs under two hours, with an intermission. According to the Daily Herald,

Tickets are $8 for adults and $7 for students, children under 12 and seniors over 55. Passes for an immediate family (two adults and four children) are available at the door for $35. Individual tickets can be bought at the financial office beforehand for a dollar off. The [advance] price for the family pass is still $35.

Here are some additional notes:

  • A distinctive feature of a high school or junior high production is the large contingent of students in the audience who know the actors. This leads to much enthusiasm and energy, of course, and also sometimes to laughter of the sort generated by inside jokes, when someone they know does or says something on stage that he or she would not do or say in person.
  • The show-stopper (for me) was early in the second act, with most or all of the cast on stage for "The Merry Land of Oz." The singing, dancing, and overall visual effect were superb.
  • Savanah Smith was delightfully wicked and shrill in her witchy roles.
  • Parker Harmon, as the Wizard of Oz and especially as Professor Marvel, achieved just the right level of melodramatic flimflammery. If his real personality is anything like his character, he must be a handful in history class. If it's not, then his acting was even better.
  • Had Ally Best been any sweeter as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, she would have been unbearable. That's a compliment. And she flew in and out on the wires with dignity and grace, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. We could see the wires, but apparently she couldn't; it was nicely done.
  • Jon Walker's walking, falling, getting up, etc. -- he did a lot of all these -- was convincingly Scarecrow. An excellent piece of physical acting.
  • A dog named Telly played Toto. It is a large role in terms of time on stage, though with few speaking lines. No doubt it is a high-stress role, too, what with all the wizardry and witchiness and weather swirling around, to say nothing of tin men, talking scarecrows, flying monkeys, Munchkins, and, ahem, Winkies. This may seem crass, but those eyes were too attentive throughout for the dog to have been drugged, so I can only conclude that the unflappable canine equanimity we witnessed was the product of a long and illustrious thespian career. The stiff upper lip suggests British training, I believe.
  • Once or twice, I thought I saw irritation and impatience in Toto's eyes, as Matt Roundy's well-played Cowardly Lion waxed particularly tremulous and whiny, but I might have been projecting my own irritation onto the dog.
  • I learned from the program that this is the 70th anniversary of the classic MGM film, which starred July Garland.
  • One really never tires of seeing high school students fly wildly around the stage on wires, whether they are flying monkeys, witches, or girls from Kansas caught up in tornadoes.
  • The second act of a musical tends to drag on -- so it usually seems to me, anyway -- but my almost-five year old was riveted to the end.
  • Did I mention that these youth enunciate? It's a beautiful thing.

Two final thoughts. First, I'm impressed that high school students can pull off scenes in which they are Munchkins and Winkies with such abandon and, so to speak, with straight faces. And second, much of what I have praised about the production is inevitably the work of director Neal Johnson, musical director Tracy Warby, and choreographer Kathy McFarland.

Heidi Rodeback comments (11/25/09):

Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got? Courage!

How can you not love this stuff?

Being a Christian woman, I can't find the words . . .

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