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The Grand Rapids Civic Theater presents The Wizard of Oz.

photo by Gene Parker

There’s no place like home.  After watching the Grand Rapids Civic Theater’s presentation of the Wizard of Oz, that message rings loud and clear.  The Civic’s talented cast is led by 15-year-old Amanda Wright of Caledonia, who plays Dorothy. It’s just like watching the TV movie with Judy Garland, but better because it’s live LOCAL  theater!  Amanda’s performance makes you forget about the movie.  She sings, dances and stands up  for the people and things she believes in. The character portrayed by Amanda is young, but  12- year-old Dorothy’s  moral compass has always been pointed in the right direction!

I went to a dress rehearsal to photograph the show.  It was interesting being at such an iconic production. You know exactly where the characters were going to be on stage to get your next photograph.  What’s surprising is the depth of the character’s reaction when they got to that point. The Civic’s presentation, which runs until December 18, is top notch. The sets, staging, lighting and costumes are out this world! I loved the rotten apple trees and the witches soldiers and flying monkeys. (and yes, the flying monkeys really do fly!)   The make-up alone for those characters looks like it takes hours.

The 500 other audience members loved the show as much as I did.  I saw  the lips of a little three year old girl tremble when the witch was on the stage.  She wasn’t scared, however, by the flying monkeys.  This show would be a great holiday treat for anyone!  It is well done and very worthy of your limited holiday time.

Just like you, I’ve seen the Wizard of Oz countless times on television growing up.  It was on every year and even though the witch was responsible for many nightmares, I never missed it.  In college I took an American History class where I learned all about Frank Baum and the Wizard of Oz books.  According to some interpretations, OZ was based on the populist movement in Kansas in  the 1890′s.   Each charter represented someone or something.  Dorothy—naïve, young and simple—represented the American people. She is Everyman… led astray and seeking the way back home.  Some historians say Baum modeled the Cowardly Lion after William Jennings Bryant and other politicians of the day who were indecisive or cowardly and lacked the courage to do the right thing.  The Twister is used in the story as a political metaphor about change.  It takes you from the drab black-and-white Kansas farm to the colorful Emerald City and unlimited prosperity.

Given the uncertain times we live in, I can’t help but marvel how relevant The Wizard of Oz really is today. The political storm that surrounds us — where politicians  promise much but can’t get anything done –; and populist movements like “Occupy Wallstreet”  make me believe not much has changed in 100 years. Dorothy is just like you and me…trying to find her way down the yellow brick road to a “better life”. When she finally gets there, she figures out what she was looking for was at home at all time.

 

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