Donate Now to Support KDHX

Listen Live
Sunday, 26 January 2014 15:12

Ballet Memphis delivers the magic in 'The Wizard of Oz'

Written by Chuck Lavazzi
Rate this item
(0 votes)

The Details

  • Director: Steven McMahon
  • Dates: January 24 and 25, 2014
L-R: Dylan G-Bowley as Tin Man, Kendall G. Britt Jr. as Lion, Virginia Pilgrim as Dorothy, Travis Bradley as Scarecrow
L-R: Dylan G-Bowley as Tin Man, Kendall G. Britt Jr. as Lion, Virginia Pilgrim as Dorothy, Travis Bradley as Scarecrow dancestlouis.org / Andrea Zucker

When you think of the music for the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," the first names that probably come to mind are Harold Arlen and E. Y. "Yip" Harburg. Their songs "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "If I Only Had a Brain" have been firmly ensconced in the Great American Songbook for decades. If you're a film music fan, you might also think of composer/arranger (and Broadway veteran) Herbert Stothart, who combined Arlen's tunes with original material into a seamless, Oscar-winning score.

Names that would probably not leap to the forefront of your cranium would be Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, and Zoltán Kodály. And yet the recordings of music by those 20th century masters that serve as the accompaniment for Ballet Memphis's dance version of the classic film are so well chosen that you'd think they were composed exactly for the purpose.

That canny choice of music isn't the only reason this ballet version of "The Wizard of Oz" was so entertaining, of course. Steven McMahon's eclectic and character-driven choreography, Bruce Bui's colorful costumes, Andrew Kovach's simple but effective sets, and Andrew Meyers' minimalist yet dramatic lighting all combined to make this a genuine "all ages" show. We saw it at the Saturday matinee, and the parents were clearly enjoying it as much as their Munchkin offspring.

The scenario follows the film closely and, rather like Beijing opera, clearly assumes that the audience is familiar enough with the source material to fill in the details. When we saw the oversize, distorted shadow of Rafael Ferreras, Jr., (slyly fraudulent as the Wizard) flamboyantly gesticulating at Dorothy and her three companions, for example, it was easy to recall the oversize, distorted projection of Frank Morgan's face from the movie. Likewise, Travis Bradley's loose-limbed, acrobatic clumsiness as the Scarecrow immediately called to mind Ray Bolger's equally magical dancing in the original.

Ballet Memphis's "Wizard of Oz" is not, in short, for those who have somehow never seen the film. But then, given how popular the film has been over the decades, that's pretty small potatoes as criticism goes.

The company has assembled a wonderful cast of dancers for this tour. Julie Niekrasz (Glinda in the evening performances) was a wistful and charming Dorothy, Dylan G-Bowley an amusingly robotic as the Tin Man, and Kendall G. Britt Jr. the very essence of comic feline bravado as Lion. Crystal Brothers (Aunt Em in the evenings) was a wonderfully sinuous and gravity defying Wicked Witch while Virginia Pilgrim (Dorothy in the evenings) was cheerfully sugary as Glinda. Daniel Russell Cooke was a sympathetic Uncle Henry, and Bryn Gilbert made a strong impression in the small but vital role of the awful Miss Gulch.

The corps de ballet (which included dancers from some of the smaller roles) filled in as poppies, snowflakes, flying monkeys (with some very evocative Fosse-esque choreography), and citizens of the Emerald City. Students from COCA's dance program portrayed the Munchkins and children of Oz. It's a nifty local tie-in and, again, a sign of the intelligence behind this production in that it saves the company the hassles of travelling with child performers.

It is, I suppose, possible that hard-core dance lovers might dismiss overtly commercial efforts like "Wizard of Oz" (although Ballet-Dance Magazine certainly seemed to like the 2007 premiere), but the fact is that very few performing arts organizations can survive these days without the occasional crowd pleaser. You can't champion newer and more innovative work (as Ballet Memphis clearly does; their motto is "reach further") without something guaranteed to pay the bills. If the size of the house this past Saturday afternoon was any indication, "The Wizard of Oz" is does that, and delivers a satisfying piece of dance theatre in the process. I'd call that a win-win.

The Ballet Memphis production of "The Wizard of Oz" played the Touhill Performing Arts Center January 24 and 25, produced by Dance St. Louis. The Dance St. Louis season continues February 28 and March 1 at the Touhill with Diavolo, a company of modern dancers athletes, gymnasts, ballet dancers, martial artists, actors, and stunt performers, the blurs the boundary between dance and circus arts. For more information: dancestlouis.org.

Additional Info

  • Director: Steven McMahon
  • Dates: January 24 and 25, 2014

Related Video

YouTube.com

Sponsor Message

Become a Sponsor

Find KDHX Online

KDHX on Instagram
KDHX on YouTube
KDHX on SoundCloud
KDHX on Facebook
KDHX on Twitter
KDHX on flickr

Local Artist Spotlight


The Driftaways

Mon July 28
The Driftaways are a seven man reggae band hailing from St. Louis. Their E.P. Don't Hide is full of high energy jams and groovey improves that gives them a good time vibe. Download their song "Don't Hide"…

Dad Jr: Get Down. Hard.

Sun June 29

KDHX Recommends

August
Saturday
02

The Aching Hearts at Harvest Sessions 2014

The Aching Hearts at Harvest Sessions 2014 The Aching Hearts are the husband and wife duo of Ryan Spearman and Kelly Wells (host of Steam-Powered Radio on 88.1 KDHX), who recently released the CD "Just a Habit." Join them and KDHX for a morning of classic, old-time...


August
Wednesday
06

Discovery Series: Mandolin Orange

Discovery Series: Mandolin Orange KDHX presents Mandolin Orange as part of the Discovery Series on Wednesday August 6 at 7:30 p.m. The North Carolina-based duo combines bluegrass, rock and country, providing a modern take on age-old styles. Tickets available...


August
Wednesday
06

Discovery Series

Discovery Series KDHX launches 10-event series spanning August to December of this year containing new music and music-focused interactive sessions that take a look at how music plays a role in our society. Each month the Discovery Series will...


Online Users

4 users and 8180 guests online
Sign in with Facebook

SYSTEM: S5 Box

Login/My Account

Sign in with Facebook