Youmans: This 'Wizard' is full of innovation

3-D Theatricals is taking a trip down the yellow brick road. Along the way, the theater production company has implemented modern twists transforming the typical two-dimensional "The Wizard of Oz" into a three-dimensional manifestation of lions, tigers, and bears.

In the theater world, there are certain overdone productions that carry a stigma. "The Wizard of Oz" is among them.

With this in mind I hesitantly took my seat, fearing that I would experience yet another clichéd jaunt to the Emerald City. However, after the first act finale, I was pleasantly surprised by the production's innovation and artistry.

"The Wizard of Oz" — based on the 1939 MGM movie starring Judy Garland— follows Dorothy Gail on a whimsical adventure down the yellow brick road.

Although Melinda Koen's vocal execution of the famous "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was impeccable, the majority of Dorothy's songs missed the sweet spot in Koen's range. It wasn't until later in Act One, when she shined in true soprano moments, that this incongruity became evident.

This was not the only mismatch in the production, which opened Oct. 14 and runs through Oct. 30 at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton. At times, Koen was missing that youthful light in her eyes that most audiences associate with the meek and callow Dorothy. As a result, Koen appeared too mature for the role, but overall, she gave a fine performance.

Tamara Zook, undoubtedly a stellar actress, rightfully carried the show as a fierce Wicked Witch of the West. There was a certain fire in Zook's eyes, and I don't mean the demonic, red eyeliner.

Diane Vincent's Glinda resembled a bubbly Bernadette Peters, which starkly contrasted her dry, realistic Aunt Em. In Munchkinland, the good witch of the North was followed by an overwhelming parade of cuteness featuring local youth performers with skill and professionalism beyond their years. Surely, the future looks bright for the next generation of Orange Country theatrical talent.

Young actor D.J. Price came pretty close to stealing Toto's thunder with his quirky portrayal of Nikko, the flying monkey, which had adults and children in stitches.

The innovative approaches and unpredictable comedic moments set this production apart from the rest.

In "King of the Forest," C.J. Porter, who played Lion, inserted a stand-up comedy routine that poked fun at the cliché nature of the musical. Porter's comedic command of the audience coupled with a powerful baritone voice and a presence to match made his take on the lion exciting and unexpected.

Ryan Ruge, the Tin Man, melted audiences with his sweet crooning vocals in "If I Only Had Heart," which features a group of lovesick trees swooning over the tin Sinatra. Opposite Porter and Ruge is Graham Kurtz, a surprisingly agile Scarecrow with a charismatic charm.

Memorable musical numbers, including "Jitterbug" and "Merry Old Land of Oz," were characterized by a tight, first-class dance ensemble and an even stronger vocal ensemble. The fluid blend of tight harmonies and orchestration was almost out of recording.

Aside from the performance aspect, technical achievements also made a major contribution to the three-dimensional spectacle.

The 1,300-seat Plummer Auditorium already has a 3-D feel built into its architecture, which lighting designer Jean-Yves Tessier elegantly accented. The marriage of the lighting, pyrotechnics, surround sound, and flying effects by FOY added another facet to the visual experience, especially in the twister sequence:

Behind entrancing projections of storm clouds, Dorothy flew through the air, creating an illusion that she was actually in the cyclone. Furthermore, the realistic surround sound swept the audience away into Dorothy's dream.

Director Shauna Markey phenomenally delineated dream from reality during technical representations, like the twister sequence. Markey's direction of the performers reflected this differentiation, as well; While the opening scenes reflected a realistic dramatic style, a whimsical, animated approach took over in Oz and Munchkinland.

And, there's a twist! As the final scene came to a close, Dorothy's bed skirt was lifted to reveal a pair of ruby slippers under her bed, a symbol grounding her dream in reality. I have yet to see other productions make this intriguing choice.

The story of salvaging Fullerton Civic Light Opera by producers at 3-D Theatricals, the youngest professional theater company in Orange County, is a dream come true, as well.

As T.J. Dawson appeared center stage before a Saturday evening performance on Oct. 15, he greeted the audience with a youthful demeanor that mirrored his young theater company. He then went on to describe 3-D's journey to the Plummer Auditorium: After a first season at the OC Pavilion in Santa Ana, another theater fallen victim to financial times, Dawson came to FCLO's aid and renewed the venue.

"It was a match made in heaven," Dawson said of the partnership.

With the stability of live theater companies rapidly declining, the case of FCLO and 3-D Theatricals provides new hope. Perhaps, like the rise and fall of great empires, theater itself will not die out, but be replaced with something new and revolutionary.

3-D, now officially a non-profit organization, is reaching out to volunteers looking to contribute their time and talent in an effort to keep Orange County theater alive. The forthcoming third season includes: "The Sound of Music," "Avenue Q," A Chorus Line," Irving Berlin's "I Love a Piano," as well as a hair-raising, Tony Award-winning smash hit. Take a wild guess.

Surely, this is just the beginning for a company in its infancy. With infinite creativity and originality to offer the community and theater world, 3D Theatricals could indeed mature into a formidable force.

HEATHER YOUMANS reviews arts events for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "The Wizard of Oz" by 3-D Theatricals

Where: Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. Oct. 27, 28, 29; and 2 p.m. Oct. 29 and 30.

For tickets and more information: Go to the 3-D Theatricals website at

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