.There’s No Place Like Healdsburg for the ‘Wizard of Oz’

Healdsburg’s Raven Players is one of the few local companies to wear the phrase “community theater” as a badge of honor.

Absent a delusion of grandeur and pretenses of “Broadway quality,” the Players simply commit to being a place where all are welcome, both on and off the stage. Their casts are frequently composed of a mixture of stage veterans and newcomers, and what their shows may lack in production values or experience is often made up for by the energy and heart displayed by the participants. Their seasons lean to the familiar, occasionally presenting original or lesser-known works.

You can’t get any more familiar than The Wizard of Oz. Who hasn’t seen the classic 1939 film a couple of hundred times? John Kane and the Royal Shakespeare Company adapted the film for the stage in 1987, retaining all of the original dialogue and songs and adding just a wee bit more of both. Raven Players artistic director Steven David Martin has a double-cast production of this version running at the Raven Performing Arts Theater through April 7.

Dorothy Gale (Joanna Burrill, alternating with Eily Carniglia) runs away from her Kansas home to save her little dog Toto (a stuffed animal that transmogrifies into the precocious William Young) from the heinous Miss Gulch (Kate Edery). Transported via tornado to the Land of Oz, Dorothy seeks a way home with the assistance of a scarecrow (Bohn Connor/Elliot Davis), a tin man (Joe Caruselle/Dan Murray) and a cowardly lion (Nicholas Augusta/Evan Espinoza). Glinda the Good Witch (Katie Watts-Whitaker) sends them off to see the Wizard (Craig Peoples/Matt Farrell) while avoiding the Wicked Witch of the West (Edery).

The munchkins, talking trees, flying monkeys and jitterbugs that are met along the way are all energetically played by youth, many of whom are members of the Young at Heart Theatre program.

Veteran performers in the cast kept the show grounded, while the youthful ensemble’s energy and enthusiasm kept the show’s tempo and pace up and moving through its two-and-one-half hour running time. This went a long way in keeping the numerous younger members of the audience engaged.

Director Martin and his team have upped the Raven’s usual production values and added substantial projections, smoke, bubbles and other special effects to the mix. There’s an eight-piece live orchestra under the direction of Kelly Considine delivering the live music, and Jeanine Gray brings a touch of modernity to the traditional costumes.

Knowing the dialogue and lyrics helps as sound continues to be an issue at the Raven. The orchestra frequently overpowered the singing.

It takes brains, courage and a whole lot of heart to mount a production like The Wizard of Oz.

There’s no place like… Healdsburg.

‘The Wizard of Oz’ runs through April 7 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North St., Healdsburg. Thurs-Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $10–$40. 707.433.6335. raventheater.org.

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