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LIGHTNING REVIEW: Young actors shine in 'Oz'

There's no place like home – the play's mantra is true enough. And for a little over an hour, the Flat Rock Playhouse Young Performers made us all feel that we were at home with their snappy production of Frank Baum's beloved fantasy classic, The Wizard Of Oz.

 

Director David Earl Hart keeps the action moving, and a lot happens. The sweet but distraught Dorothy is played by Hannah Kepple, and the Wicked Witch of the West by Hannah Daniels. Central Casting couldn't have found a better heroine, or more true to the original.
Kepple's voice has Judy Garland's vulnerability and quivering strength. And she delivers "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" with an understated beauty. As her foil, Daniels is suitably creepy, lingering on lines and seeming to enjoy scowling "My pretty."
The farmhands, Zeke, Hickory, and Hunk, deliver crisp dialogue that foreshadows the characters
that they become in Dorothy's dream – the Cowardly Lion (Jackson Pelz), the Tin Man (Samuel Hooper),
and the Scarecrow (Christian Carmean).
There are munchkins. There are giant snowflakes and talking apple trees. There are poppies and flying monkeys and marching Winkies. There's a dog named Toto who
got out of his yard and started the whole thing (very ably played
by Maybe Ruth). And in the end there's a singed scarecrow and a melted witch.
Staging is simple and effective. The witch's ruby slippers seem to appear magically on Dorothy's feet. The cyclone's terror is portrayed through flashes of light and spinning choreographed dance. The wizard's voice is made more ominous with electronic audio effects.
Classic lines are delivered well. Even one who's never been to the state knows what Dorothy means when she eyes good witch Glinda (Claire Griffin) and says, "Now I know we're not in Kansas." A
knowledge of allitertion is not required to appreciate the lion's charming and witty song about courage,
"If I Were The King Of The Forest." Dry eyes are few when the Tin Man says, "Now I know I have a heart,
because it's breaking."
In the end, of course, the outed Wizard is redeemed with a glowing oration. He assures the disappointed travelers that they have always possessed the qualities they followed the yellow brick road to find. Indeed, throughout the journey the lion was bravest, the scarecrow the wisest, and the tin man the most emotionally attuned. – but just to be sure, the Wizard awards the Scarecrow a "Dr. of Thinkology" degree (after which he spontaneously recites the Pythagorean Theorem). He admits the Cowardly Lion to the "Legion Of Courage," and affixes a placebo heart on the Tin Man.
Attending the performance along with about 80 spellbound
Henderson County elementary school children, I was reminded
how differently I view The Wizard Of Oz now than I did at age 8 – and what a great tale it is for all ages.