For as long as I can remember, it was a movie I looked forward to watching on television each year. It scared me to death when I was little, but the colors, the characters, the opposition of good and evil, the spiraling Yellow Brick Road, and the songs made it new each and every time. The incredible journey in The Wizard of Oz, the movie musical based on the L. Frank Baum novel with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, has been distilled into an immaculate production of concert and song by Young Artists of America at Strathmore (YAA), a training organization for young performers. Led by Founder and Producing Artist Director, Rolando Sanz, The Wizard of Oz in Concert brings together a passionate and precise Youth Orchestra conducted by Kristofer Sanz, a talented Vocal Youth Ensemble directed by Rolando Sanz, and YAA Junior Ensemble directed by Paul Heinemann.
Guest Narrator Robert Aubry Davis, a frequent voice at WETA, supplies details and vocal personalities that move the story forward. Intonations of the Wicked Witch of the West and the booming echo of the all-powerful Wizard underline the still images and footage from the 1939 movie projected overhead. The orchestra, vocal ensembles and program selections are tied to the still images. Vocal soloists step forward to mirror what is seen in the images and bring home a sense of place or charming humor with simple gestures. You know precisely where you are when the Scarecrow, performed by Ethan Miller, points one way and then the next; or Lion, performed by Sam Nasar drops to the floor from fright, or when the cyclone propels the orchestra to a delightful whirlwind.
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is first sung by Mezzo/Alto Jamie Goodson in an exacting performance that translates the longing for a better tomorrow into a presence that reaches throughout the Dekelbourn Concert Hall at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Along the way, the role of Dorothy is performed by several outstanding singers including Sopranos Emily Reed, Mia Goodman, Cosette Rosales, Lily James, Madeline Schupak and Mezzo/Alto Jenna Prosen. The depth of talent in the YAA Vocal Ensemble cannot be overstated, as these young women passed the lead to the next, I truly would have heard more from each and every one. “Come Out, Come Out” performed by Soprano Elizabeth Doerrman, and then later by Jillian Tate and Amanda Primosch, as Glinda, is notable in the same respect.
The way is paved for a continuing line of exceptional performers. A stand out moment is the professional, flowing, and completely charming, the “Lollypop Guild” performed by YAA Junior Ensemble members Will Coffey, Madi Heinemann, Cole Mcelhany, and Todd Rosenblatt. Newer music, “Already Home,” a more recent addition by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice reaches a crescendo of excellence merging orchestra and vocal ensembles.
“March of the Winkies” frightens anew and leads to a reprise of “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead.” The Wizard is not so powerful after all but Tin Man, performed by Nick Schapp, gets his testimonial, Scarecrow his diploma, and Lion his medal.
Best of all, the audience receives a professional performance that is brilliant and well-polished. Directors Kristofer Sanz, Rolando Sanz, and Paul Heinemann have created an extraordinary environment for mentorship and individualized instruction for these committed and gifted young people. It is an exciting endeavor to envision the bright future that awaits many in the performing arts, and the doors that will open in the pursuit of other career paths. With this level of professionalism and commitment the future is just over the rainbow.
Running Time: 50 minutes, with no intermission
The Wizard of Oz in Concert presented by Young Artists of America at Strathmorewas performed one-night-only on October 29, 2016 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland – 8270 Alumni Drive, in College Park, MD. More information about the Young Artists of American program can be found online.