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The Wizard of Oz

(Left to right) Benjamin Rose (Toto Puppeteer), Christophor Moulton as Lion, Nicolas Pelletier as Scarecrow, Dana Benton as Dorothy, and Francisco Estevez as Tin Man
(L to R) Benjamin Rose (Toto Puppeteer), Christophor Moulton as Lion,
Nicolas Pelletier as Scarecrow, Dana Benton as Dorothy, and Francisco Estevez as Tin Man
Photo: Mike Watson
 
The much anticipated world premiere of this full-length ballet—created by the Colorado Ballet in partnership with Kansas City Ballet and Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, featuring choreography by Septime Webre with music by Matthew Pierce—has broken all records for ticket sales (outside of the company's The Nutcracker productions). This is also the company's all-time highest selling season, for the fifth straight year.

Such great support from the community is what makes it possible for the Colorado Ballet to take chances on investing in new work, such as this adaptation of the film version of the wonderful tale by L. Frank Baum, who wrote it as a allegory regarding monetary reform in the late 19th century.

While the narrative and dialogue in the original "children's" book may appear simple and straightforward, the words and the characters who speak them are, in fact, Baum's commentary on a series of events and personalities involved in contentious issues at the time they were created.

Adaptation between mediums—literature, theatre, opera, ballet, music, and film—is a tricky business, given the protocols of each. In this case, the results are mixed, in part due to the lack of context for the extended encounters in Munchkin Land and along the Yellow Brick Road, in part due to the choreography and costumes being at cross-purposes in certain sections (with the tutus getting in the way of some robust lifts, acrobatics, and releases), and in part due to the music being so divergent (and seemingly independent) from the well-known film score, with its distinctive ties to specific characters. If the original story were not so familiar, there are definitely places where one might wonder what is happening in the ballet, despite the electronic seatback titling system.

Morgan Buchanan as the Wicked Witch and Dana Benton as Dorothy
Morgan Buchanan as the Wicked Witch
and Dana Benton as Dorothy
Photo: Mike Watson
In contrast, many of the production elements are outstanding, beginning with Benjamin Rose's marvelous work bringing Toto to life, one of many fine puppet designs by Nicholas Mahon. The production also incorporates a series of projections inspired by the original film, depicting various events, such as the tornado and all the airborne detritus, as well as the Wizard's scary manifestations. Speaking of flying on the wind, the aerial choreography is wondrous, with Dorothy, Glinda, and the Wicked Witch and her monkeys all taking flight.

Munchkin Men
Munchkin Men
Photo: Mike Watson
The costumes (Liz Vandal) are stunning as well, echoing the famous film transformation from black & white cinematography to technicolor (the reason that Dorothy's slippers were changed from silver [the monetized metal], as they are in the book, to ruby). Munchkin Land is filled with a kaleidoscope of colors and fanciful and whimsical anatomical features, particularly the Curly Cues and the Grasshoppers. The only head scratcher were the Yellow Brick Roadies, who looked like they were covered in Post-It Notes, rather than gold bricks or bullion.

Dana Benton as Dorothy
Dana Benton as Dorothy
Photo: Mike Watson
 
Dana Benton is a tour de force as the innocent Dorothy who, like Clara in The Nutcracker (another Benton gem this season), falls asleep and dreams up subconscious compensations for the day's events. The dances with her trail buddies and a spectrum of odd characters exude pure joy. The Scarecrow (Nicolas Pelletier), Tin Man (Francisco Estevez), and Lion (Christophor Moulton) sequences are funny, endearing, and easy to follow. Morgan Buchanan is delightfully scary as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch. Chandra Kuykendall shines as Glinda, showering Dorothy with goodness and love.

The Colorado Ballets's world premiere of The Wizard of Oz runs through February 10th. For tickets: coloradoballet.org.

Bob Bows



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