From A and Z block letters to ornate fleurs-de-lis, bookends serve a variety of purposes, from the decorative to the functional. Bookends have also made their way into the lexicon of performing arts organizations, typically used for productions that anchor the beginning and end of a season.
Robert Mills, artistic director of the Oklahoma City Ballet, wanted to open and close the company's 40th season with full-length ballets that would have broad appeal. “Coppelia,” a repertory staple, opened the season and “The Wizard of Oz” will bring it to a close.
“People had been asking when we were going to do ‘The Wizard of Oz' again, and this seemed like the right time,” Mills said. “I wanted to go out with a grand production that was something kids and families could enjoy.”
Choreographed by ballet master Jacob Sparso, “The Wizard of Oz” features an original score by Kermit Poling, music director of the South Arkansas Symphony and the Shreveport Metropolitan Ballet. Poling has also been the associate/resident conductor and concertmaster of the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra for more than 25 years.
“When we did ‘The Wizard of Oz' in 2009, I was worried about the music because people know the film songs so well,” Mills said. “But Kermit's score is engaging and exciting. He'll be coming in to conduct the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. We don't often get to premiere a full length ballet with a new score that is performed live.”
Together with illustrator W.W. Denslow, L. Frank Baum published “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900. The tales of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion brought Baum critical acclaim and financial success. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was the best-selling children's book for two years after its initial publication.
Unfortunately, Baum didn't live long enough to see the tremendous influence his original novel and its 13 sequels would have on American popular culture. Baum died in 1919, 20 years before Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer introduced Hollywood's “The Wizard of Oz.”
Baum's “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” also inspired the 1975 stage musical “The Wiz,” Walt Disney's 1985 “Return to Oz,” “The Muppets' Wizard of Oz” and a variety of animated productions. Baum's continuing influence can be seen today in the Broadway musical “Wicked,” a prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.”
For those who may wonder if this season finale will feature special effects that make this story so compelling, the Oklahoma City Ballet has enlisted the help of ZFX, a company that specializes in flying and other special
“We decided to go with ZFX because of its realistic tornado,” Mills said. “It has a traditional funnel shape that is narrow at the bottom and wide at the top. It's a great looking effect when it starts swirling.”
Patrons can also expect to see Glinda the Good Witch make her entrance on a bubble, the Wicked Witch of the West will fly about the stage on her broom and there will be several flying monkeys to heighten the production's vivid imagery.
Oz-related family events are planned an hour before each performance. Kids can color a brick and place it on the road to help Dorothy and her traveling companions get to Oz. They can also be photographed against an Oz backdrop for a “Wizard of Oz” memento. A half hour before curtain, Glinda the Good Witch will tell the story of “The Wizard of Oz.”
The production's leading female roles have been double cast. Playing Dorothy are Stephanie Foraker Pitts and Amanda Herd. Cast as the Wicked Witch of the West are Audrey Johnston and Sarah Chun. Rounding out the cast are Josh Crespo as the Scarecrow, Anton Iakovlev as the Tin Man and David Barocio as the Cowardly Lion.
“The dancers have enjoyed exploring these out-of-the-ordinary characters,” Mills said. “We've also encouraged them to be in costume as much as possible because it changes how they approach the choreography.
“With a three-dimensional tornado and a witch melting through the floor, this has been a fun show to put together. It's a great show for families, it's affordable and you get to hear the music played live. It seemed like the perfect time to bring it back.”