From left to right: Tristan McNally, Taylor Facca, Hudson Morash, Jon Comuzzi, and Tanner Casasanta

Story by Kyle Poluyko, photo by Maria Maria Photography

The merry old land of Oz came brilliantly to life last night at Selkirk Auditorium as St. Patrick High School’s production of The Wizard of Oz opened its run to rousing applause and a standing ovation.

A celebration of the 75th anniversary of the MGM classic film, it closely follows the beloved plot and characterizations so many have come to know. Aunt Em (Chelsey Brassard) and Uncle Henry (Hudson Morash) are hard at work on the Kansas farm, with ranch hands Hunk (Tristan McNally), Hickory (Jon Comuzzi) and Zeke (Tanner Casasanta) doing their best with chores but not without comedic missteps. They are all too busy and dismissive when a startled Dorothy (Jodie Stares) arrives with Toto in hand following an unpleasant run-in with the wicked Miss Gulch (Sophie Cousineau). Soon Gulch arrives to collect Toto by written decree, though Toto escapes and Dorothy resolves to run away. She comes upon Professor Marvel (Matt Hill) whose visions prompt Dorothy to return home as a tornado swipes the farmhouse and Dorothy away to the magical land.

Glinda (Brassard) bubbles in and points Dorothy down the yellow brick road, newly adorned in her ruby slippers, to Oz where the great and powerful wizard is the only one who can transport her back to Kansas. Along the way, she befriends the Scarecrow (McNally), Tin Man (Comuzzi) and Cowardly Lion (Casasanta) who escort her to Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West (Cousineau) is never far behind on the journey wrought with apple-throwing trees, and vibrant, athletic monkeys. Upon arriving in Oz, Morash as the charmingly emotional Emerald City Guard grants Dorothy and her friends’ entrance to Oz and access to he who is Great and Powerful. As Oz (Hill), he is intimidating and threatening until he is exposed for the fraud he is. And, as is well known, just three clicks of the ruby slippers transport Dorothy back home.

Pleasant vocal and acting performances fill and fulfill the production, led gracefully by Stares as Dorothy and the equally resonant Brassard and Cousineau. But it is the chemistry of McNally, Comuzzi and Casasanta together, and that of Morash, that steal the show. The gentlemen are fearless and innovative in their performances, making acting choices that are genuine in their moments of deep emotion and downright hilarity. A dynamic cast of 60 creates splendour in numbers that are a spectacle to take in, whether in song or in glittery dance choreographed by Stephanie DePiero. Special mention must me made of Aryn Ertl, Lydia Johnson, and Ashley Faulkner as the Dark Forest Trees who add hysterical attitude and body language to their taunting of Dorothy and the gang.

Dazzling projections across Selkirk Auditorium ingeniously entertained and filled in the blanks – so to speak – during scene transitions, including a cow flying through the air as the tornado touched down. Led by Danny Johnson, the members of the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra brought the timeless music of the story to life elegantly and with crystal clarity. At times the orchestra did drown out the singing and dialogue, but that is likely to be fine tuned as the run continues.

Directors Patricia DelPaggio and Dan Puiatti have created a spectacular production that is worthy of all the accolades The Wizard of Oz is sure to receive. The months of work and lengths they went to in staging this production have not been seen on the high school stage in many years.

The Wizard of Oz runs through May 10 at Selkirk Auditorium with all proceeds going to children’s charities. Call 623-5218 for tickets and more information.

NOTE: Victoria Ekensweiler, Taylor Facca and Riley Yesno will alternate in the roles of Glinda, Dorothy and The Wicked Witch respectively during the run.