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Off to see The Wizard of Oz at Broadway Palm

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Tom Hall
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Most reviews of The Wizard of Oz focus on its enchanting storyline. A Kansas tornado whisks a teenage girl and her little dog to a strange land, where she makes new friends, learns from mentors, overcomes threshold guardians and battles a powerful enemy in order to find her way home again. While Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre honors this timeless story and its iconic characters, its production is special for a number of other reasons. The first is an exceptional cast, which includes Melissa Whitworth, who Broadway Palm audiences adored as Mary Poppins.

“Some of the performers have played their roles before, some of them over 400 times,” said Whitworth. “They’ve had the chance to really dig in and make their performances as entertaining, comedic and heartfelt as possible because they never stop trying to seek that perfect performance no matter how many times they’ve done it.”

Then there’s Sarah Cammarata, who has been playing the role of Dorothy Gale for more than half of her life.

“The first time I played Dorothy I was a child," said Cammarata. "But if you count professionally, once I graduated college and entered the real world of theater, it’s been about six years now. So I actually did it here six years ago at the Broadway Palm and then three years later I did it internationally in China, and now I’m back again.”

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Tom Hall
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Sarah Cammarata has been playing the role of Dorothy Gale for more than half of her life.

And Victor Legarreta, who is magnificent as the Cowardly Lion, is returning to the merry old land of Oz for the fifth time, having previously portrayed both the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, as well as the Lion in the musical’s 2017-2018 national tour.

While paying homage to America’s most popular movie is important, Cammarata explains that Director and Choreographer Amy McCleary has also injected a number of surprising new elements into the classic story.

“There is a really cool trick with the way that we do the yellow brick road and there are some really interesting character choices that are that great balance of seeing so much of the classic film that you love but also seeing some really cool new interesting things in the plot,” said Cammarata.

Broadway Palm didn’t crimp on the show’s technical elements either.

“We have flight, we have fire, we have magic,” Whitworth points out. “It’s a high production value,” said Cammarata.

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Tom Hall
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The Wizard of Oz will be performed at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre from July 2 through Aug. 13.

In a show characterized by extraordinary sets, colorful custom costumes, and the kind of dance sequences that are synonymous with McCleary’s signature choreography, what Broadway Palm audiences will long remember are the show’s visuals – such as the little frame farmhouse spinning and spinning in the Kansas twister and Kate Stenzel and Melissa Whitworth flying across the stage – Stenzel as Glinda the Good in her transparent bubble and Whitworth’s Wicked Witch taking flight on her well-worn broom.

Whitworth is the beneficiary of the show’s other stand-out techno-moments: The smoke and flashes that announce her entrances, the fireball she tosses at the Scarecrow, and her nifty disappearing act as she melts into the floor of her castle after being doused by the bucket of water that Dorothy throws on the Scarecrow when the witch sets him on fire with her broom.

But under McCleary’s enlightened direction, The Wizard of Oz is so much more than song, spectacle and pageantry.

“One of the most beautiful things that, I think, Amy has helped me discover is that this story is far deeper than just a girl who gets lost and goes to a magical land and then tries to go back home,” said Cammarata.

“It really is a coming-of-age story and it really is about a young girl who’s kind of entering that rebellious stage of womanhood and she really finds her inner strength and she accesses things she didn’t know she had within her to sort of become the fearless leader of the group and find her way back home.”

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Tom Hall
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The Wizard of Oz will be performed at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre from July 2 through Aug. 13.

While Dorothy’s outer problem may be Miss Gulch’s antipathy toward Toto and her aunt and uncle’s failure to stand by her, this production underscores Dorothy’s inner dilemma. She’s missing an important piece of her psyche. Her parents are dead. Her aunt and uncle don’t seem to have time for her. She feels like an imposition and doesn’t feel at home anymore. So in essence, her trip to Oz is a metaphorical quest for completion.

As she passes through corn fields, apple orchards, wild forests and poppy fields, Dorothy comes to terms with her feelings about the weak male role models in her life, learning life-altering lessons about her own resourcefulness, caring and nerve. But it’s through the Wicked Witch that she finally confronts her own inner demons, as Melissa Whitworth explains.

“The Wicked Witch isn’t just an outside obstacle, you know," said Whitworth. "The Wicked Witch is that voice in your head saying mean things to you and trying to hold you down and keep you back from believing in yourself and being true to your heart and using your brain and having courage.”

One big difference between McCleary’s vision and the movie version of Dorothy’s encounter with the Witch is Dorothy’s pluck.

“In the movie, Dorothy is sitting," said McCleary. "She’s crying. She’s not really fighting for herself. She’s just reacting, but she is kind of a victim,” observes Whitworth. “In our version, Dorothy is right up in the wicked witch’s face, fighting back and standing up for herself. I think that’s just a really exciting version of a way to produce this show.

In her dealings with the Witch and even the Wizard, Dorothy has another powerful ally, Toto, who symbolizes her intuition. That’s really what Miss Gulch and the Wicked Watch want to destroy. But that’s the one thing Dorothy won’t let them or anyone else do.

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Tom Hall
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Melissa Whitworth as the Wicked Witch in the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre's rendition of The Wizard of Oz.

In the end, Dorothy learns that home is not a place but a state of mind and solutions to life’s most challenging problems emanate from within. No one needs to rescue this girl. She already possesses the brains, heart, courage and intuition to save herself.

This deeper understanding translates into a more profound experience not only for the cast, but for the audiences who see the show. On that subject, Sarah Cammarata gets the last word:

"There are so many intricate and intimate moments that we share as cast members that we share with various members of the ensemble, whether they are the monkeys or the Ozzians or the Winkies," said Cammarata.

"And even if it’s not an exact tangible moment from the audience’s perspective, it’s still so important because we feel it, we connect on it and then that energy is, I think, translated to the audience of a show that’s so much more in depth, has so much more meaning and is just so full.”

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Tom Hall
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The Wizard of Oz will be performed at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre from July 2 through Aug. 13.

The Wizard of Oz will be performed at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre from July 2 through Aug. 13.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.

Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.

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