“The Wizard of Oz” has been much in the news recently.
It’s the 80th anniversary of the iconic 1939 movie musical about Dorothy Gale of Kansas (Judy Garland) and her adventures with a colorful cast of characters — and one feisty Cairn terrier — in the Emerald City.
(“Oz” is also in the news because of actress Renee Zellwegger, whose critically acclaimed portrayal of Judy Garland in the biopic “Judy,” which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, is likely to earn her an Academy Award nomination next month.)
So much buzz surrounding the Wiz made “something Oz-related” a natural choice for a winter recital, said Kathy Jepson, the facility and operations director at Palm Arts. Though it’s best known as a movie, “The ‘Wizard of Oz’ has been staged,” Jepson noted. “And luckily, our artistic director, Nicole Hattler, who comes to us from the Vail Dance School, had produced ‘The Wizard of Oz’ there. We knew it could translate well to dance, so we went for it.”
“Staged” seems a rather tame descriptor for the explosion of color, music and dance genres, not to mention the sheer number of performers — there are 95 in all, ages 3-18 — that will greet audiences for a one-night-only performance Saturday of “Adventures in Oz” on the Palm Theatre’s stage.
Though the performance is based on “The Wizard of Oz,” “we’re telling a story through music and dance, and each piece of music is important,” Jepson pointed out. “It’s the same beloved storyline,” but in order to highlight a diverse group of talents with training not only in ballet but hip-hop, jazz and tap, and to accommodate contemporary musical tastes, let’s just say (without giving too much away) that the score will be contemporary, and each selection scrupulously chosen.
“Nicole pours her heart and soul into every performance or production that we stage. She’ll listen for hours and hours to find the right musical piece, and then we’ll cut it to fit the time allotted,” Jepson noted. “We’ve pulled two pieces from (the hit, Oz-themed musical) ‘The Wiz,’ including ‘Ease On Down the Road.’” There’s an updated ‘lollipop’ song that the fairy ballet dance-class will perform, and Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow,’ with the lyrics ‘Sail Away, sail away, sail away’” (Jepson was singing now) “is the background music for when the tornado strikes, and gets Dorothy to Oz from Kansas.”
Getting so many students together in Telluride for rehearsals has been a challenge. “Our kids have so many after-school activities and talents, and they pursue all those things,” Jepson said. “It can be hard to get them into dance class three, four or five times a week. Whenever you’re staging something, so many factors are in play: there’s the lighting, the set, the costume changes. Props are flying in and out. The audience isn’t supposed to see or be aware of any of this; for them, it’s an escape.”
In fact, Jepson, and Hattler, had an early glimpse of what they hope tomorrow’s performance will be. It came during a class for the smallest, youngest dancers, the 3-to-5 year olds in a “Fairytale Ballet” session. Charlotte Botenhagen, who plays Glinda the Good Witch, “would come over and dance with the kids, and she always showed up in costume,” Jepson recalled. The first time Botenhagen arrived, the tiny dancers took a look and eyes widened and little jaws dropped.
“They were sure she was Glinda,” Jepson said. Botenhagen may be only playing a witch, but it was a genuinely magical moment.
“If the rest of our audience reacts the way our fairytale ballet students did,” Jepson observed, “we will have suspended disbelief.”
Palm Dance’s “Adventures of Oz,” starring Koko Waller as Dorothy, Charlotte Botenhagen as Glinda, Gemma Andrew as the Wicked Witch, Sophia Bridger as the Lion, Bella Galbo as the Scarecrow, Henry Regnut as the Tin Man, Joe Galbo as the Wizard and a cast of 89 additional local dancers, will be performed at the Palm Theatre Saturday at 6 p.m. Tickets are available at telluridepalm.com.