|Donna and John Ranslem|
When Desert Foothills Youth Theater set the beloved classic "The Wizard of Oz" as the seventh and last offering of its record-breaking 40th-anniversary season, managing director Meribeth Reeves and director Mark Clemente knew that the production would need to stand out. And that ultimately meant an on-stage tornado that would blow away any competition.
Reeves explains: "We knew we were not the only 'Oz' on the boards this season. And the storm scene is key to establishing the slightly terrifying break between Kansas and the land of Oz, so it has to set a mood. Fortunately we also knew that we have an amazing design and construction team, who are never afraid to think big. Problem solved."
The result was a 12-foot-high cloth-and-fiberglass behemoth on wheels, the brainchild of production designer Marty Treinen. But the towering twister was almost downgraded to a gust before it made it off the drawing board. Early budget reshuffling threatened to cut it back, or eliminate it entirely.
Enter local residents Donna and John Ranslem, who were eager to support an exciting special project in connection with DFYT, a unit of the Foothills Community Foundation. The tornado was right up their alley. Once they got wind of the concept, they were swept up in the excitement, and the rest was a breeze: The couple gave generously to bring the twister to life—a perfect example of community support for community youth theater.
Propelled on stage and whirled about amidst a cadre of dancers, the twister is lit to suggest lightning bolts within. When combined with suitably menacing live music, as well as the Gales' uprooted, flying house and assorted flying livestock—suggested with appropriate scenic and choreographic magic—the twister is so effective that it has drawn applause from early audiences. Says Reeves, "We're used to audiences breaking out in spontaneous applause for our performers after an especially moving song or monologue. But a hand for a cyclone? That's a first."
"The Wizard of Oz" continues its run on Saturday May 16 and Sunday May 17 at the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center on the Black Mountain Elementary School campus, 60th Street south of Carefree Highway.
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