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Newport kids create a wonderful 'Wizard'

August 29, 2002

Tom Titus

Anyone concerned about the future of local theater should pay a

visit to Lincoln Elementary School in Newport Beach, where the

Newport Beach Theater Company has fashioned an elaborate, impressive

and highly entertaining production of that classic children's

favorite "The Wizard of Oz."

It's a kids' production in the broadest sense of the term -- the

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director is 17-year-old Ryan Mekenian, who brings a fresh outlook to

probably the most familiar story of them all. While using a script

virtually mirroring the 1939 movie, Mekenian has spiced it with some

occasional creativity in the dialogue that dispels the warmed-over

approach.

This may be a children's show, but there's no skimping on costumes

or scenery. The large flats representing Kansas, Munchkin Land and Oz

are immaculately designed (by John and Shawn Irvin and Mike Safran)

and also include a sprawling yellow brick road. The costumes of Amy

Powell and Cathy Graham -- especially those of Dorothy's companions

on her journey -- are excellent representations of these most

familiar of fictional characters.

Among the young cast members -- many of whom attend the Orange

County High School of the Performing Arts -- there are some notable

individual performances, beginning with Jenna Pinkham's wide-eyed

Dorothy (she alternates with Jennie Geoffroy). Pinkham brings a

strong, assured vocal quality to the show's signature number, "Over

the Rainbow," and delivers a convincing portrayal.

Of the other three Emerald City-bound travelers, Joseph Anderson

(alternating with Nicholas Borango) most impresses as the Scarecrow,

whose rubber-limbed antics are reminiscent of the movie's Ray Bolger

and who exhibits a polished sense of comic timing.

Zach Irvin's Tin Man also is quite authentic as he bemoans his

absence of a heart, and he has a monopoly on this character.

Cody Gummerman (sharing the role with Kyle Wolting) displays a

comically regal air as the cowardly Lion, strutting through his

extended "If I Only Had the Nerve" number and amplifying the fear

factor of these pilgrims on a dangerous journey.

Emily Horowitz eschews the traditional cackle of the Wicked Witch

of the West for a more stealthy, ominous approach. She shares the

green-hued character with Nichole Hayes.

One departure from traditional stagings (as well as the movie

version) comes in the character of Toto, Dorothy's dog, who's

portrayed by 10-year-old Alexa Safran in a furry suit. Since

10-year-olds generally are easier to direct than canines, this Toto

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