Review: 'The Wizard of Oz' by NewArts

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist 

Bethel, CT - The seventh show produced by the NewArts wing of the 1214 Foundation in Newtown was the classic ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ There were two complete casts (including two separate Oz and Munchkin choruses) for this production that featured mostly younger performers, the aptly named Tornado cast and Twister cast. Unfortunately, this was a tough technical season for NewArts and two days of performances needed to be cancelled completely, moving opening night to the Saturday matinee at the massive Walnut Hill Community Church in nearby Bethel. This gave each cast two chances to display all of the hard work they had put into the musical during their summer rehearsals with their dedicated director and producer, Michael Unger.


In his curtain speech only twenty minutes after the scheduled curtain time, Mr. Unger spoke of how proud he was of his young performers. He thanked all of the professionals and volunteers who worked as a team around him and said how honored he felt to serve once again as the director of both summer shows. He has watched some of the students grow up on his stages through the four years of summer productions. I was able to use my ticket for the Saturday matinee that featured the Twister cast; the smaller number of performances made it impossible for me to return to the church to experience a performance by the Tornado cast. I am sorry that I cannot write about both casts as I have usually done in the past.


Those dedicated professionals involved in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ included Brian Prather as scenic designer, Kristina Sneshkoff as costume designer, Mitchell Girgasky (in his fourth NewArts season) for lighting design and Sean Sonntag from Sandy Hook on sound design. Production manager was Jared Beaulieu, production stage manager was Samantha Flint and stage manager was Michael R. Smith. Eric Greto, who was brought in to make puppets for last year’s ‘The Lion King, Jr.,’ was in charge of the adorable props and served as fly master and Steven Dean Moore was in charge of special effects and was the associate choreographer. Make-up design was by Joe Dulude II (‘Wicked,’ ‘Beautiful,’ and ‘Anastasia’) and the associate director for her third summer with NewArts was Sarah Jane Schostack. Jeffrey Saver, with 20 Broadway shows to his credit, was the music director and Abbey O’Brien (the current associate choreographer for Broadway’s ‘Waitress’) did the fine choreography.


Western CT State University senior Michelle Spanedda was Mr. Unger’s assistant and social media coordinator, and WCSU graduate Victoria Rojas, who designed the costumes for the production of ‘Cat in the Hat’ that I recently reviewed, was costume shop assistant. Naugatuck Teen Theatre alum Miette Deschenes was the production assistant and Miles Dievert has been assistant stage manager since year two. David Mercier joined NewArts this year as another assistant stage manager. Sarah Desrosiers of Newtown was production assistant.


Brianna Bauch, an actress in a NewArts show for each of the first three summers, returned this year to assist with teaching the young dancers in Oz their dance moves as choreography assistant. High school sophomore Nathaniel Unger was a production assistant and dog wrangler for the adorable Cosmo Unger (Toto.) Sandy Hook music teacher with 32 years experience, Maryrose Kristopik, returned this summer as music and casting consultant. Broadway Record’s Van Dean served another year as production consultant and was in the lobby with copies of many of his famous CDs. Katina Wall is the NewArts operations manager and many volunteers served as stage crew, followspot operators, costume shop crew and Oz flight crew.


The fabulous 19 member Oz Orchestra sounded just like the movie soundtrack as Mr. Borque conducted them onstage.


In the Twister Cast, Aubrey Hankin played the role of Dot, a young Wizard of Oz lover who sat on her bed stage right in a Wizard of Oz nightgown and served as a magical onstage prop mistress/dancer. Her little round face was pleasure to watch as she watched the proceedings onstage and took care of Toto. Annelise Raedy was a wonderful Dorothy and sang well. Payge Shaw was a natural in the roles of Aunt Em and Glinda the Good Witch, the latter always arrived in a metal bubble a la ‘Wicked.’


The trio of Dorothy’s friends were strong triple threats despite their costumes. Paige Farley made us laugh as the Cowardly Lion and Zeke the farmhand. Kyle Shelton was the tall Tinman and Hickory the farmhand and Tain Gregory took many pratfalls in the role of Scarecrow and also played Hunk.


Jane Shearin, who has appeared at Westchester Broadway Theater and Hartford Stage, was convincingly nasty as Miss Gulch and put on the green makeup to play the Wicked Witch of the West. This young performer has such stage presence and rocked the role of the evil witch with a fabulous broomstick. The tornado scene involved lights and shadows and a cow and was quite impressive, as was the smoke and mirrors/projections in the throne room. There were plenty of flying characters and not just the monkeys.


The Oz Chorus wore lots of emerald green and had lots of stage time. The Munchkin Chorus was dressed in a rainbow of colors and wild wigs and charmed everyone.


The musical version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ by L. Frank Baum has music and lyrics of the MGM motion picture score by Harold Arlen and E.Y.Harburg. Background music was written by Herbert Stothart and the book adaptation from the beloved motion picture screenplay was written by John Kane.

Photo courtesy of NewArts