THE AVENGERS Off to see the Wizard are the Scarecrow (Bohn Connor), Dorothy (Joanna Burrill), Toto (William Young) and the Tin Man (Joe Caruselle) in the Raven Theater production of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ playing until April 7. (Photos by Dennis Whitaker / Astra Digital Marketing)
By Harry Duke 

Healdsburg’s Raven Players is one of the few local companies to wear the phrase “community theater” as a badge of honor. Absent a delusion of grandeur and pretenses of so-called “Broadway quality,” the Players simply make the commitment to be a place that all are welcome, both on and off the stage.

Their casts are frequently composed of a mixture of stage veterans and newcomers, and what their shows may lack in production values or experience is often made up for by the energy and heart displayed by the participants. Their seasons lean to the familiar, with occasional presentations of original or lesser-known works.

ON THE ROAD Dorothy (played here by Joanna Sue Burrill) enlists the Scarecrow (Bohn Connor) to help her journey down the Yellow Brick Road to Oz.

You can’t get any more familiar than The Wizard of Oz. Who hasn’t seen the classic 1939 film a couple of hundred times? John Kane and the Royal Shakespeare Company adapted the film for the stage in 1987, retained all of the original dialogue and songs, and added just a wee bit more of both. Raven Players Artistic Director Steven David Martin has a double-cast production of this version running at the Raven Performing Arts Theater through April 7.

Dorothy Gale (Joanna Burrill, alternating with Eily Carniglia) runs away from her Kansas home to save her little dog Toto (a stuffed animal to start that transmogrifies into the precocious William Young) from the heinous Miss Gulch (Kate Edery).

Transported via tornado to the Land of Oz, Dorothy seeks a way home with the assistance of the Scarecrow (Bohn Connor/Elliot Davis), the Tin Man (Joe Caruselle/Dan Murray) and the Cowardly Lion (Nicholas Augusta/Evan Espinoza). Glinda the Good Witch (Katie Watts-Whitaker) sends them off to see the Wizard (Craig Peoples/Matt Farrell) while avoiding the Wicked Witch of the West (Edery).

The Munchkins, talking trees, flying monkeys and jitterbugs met along the way are all energetically played by youth, many of whom are members of the Young at Heart Theatre program.

ARRIVAL When Dorothy and her dog Toto land in Munchkinland they inadvertently slay the Wicked Witch of the East, then meet Glinda the Good Witch (Katie Watts-Whitaker) who guides them on a journey to the Emerald City.

The veteran performers in the cast kept the show grounded, while the youthful ensemble’s energy and enthusiasm kept the show’s tempo and pace up and moving through its two-and-one-half hour running time. This went a long way in keeping the numerous younger members of the audience engaged.

Director Martin and his team have upped the Raven’s usual production values and added substantial projections, smoke, bubbles and other special effects to the mix. There’s an eight-piece live orchestra under the direction of Kelly Considine delivering the live music, and Jeanine Gray brings a touch of modernity to the traditional costumes.

Knowing the dialogue and lyrics helps as sound continues to be an issue at the Raven. The orchestra frequently overpowered the singing.

It takes brains, courage and a whole lot of heart to mount a production like The Wizard of Oz.     

There’s no place like … Healdsburg.

‘The Wizard of Oz’ runs through April 7 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North St., Healdsburg. Thu – Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $10–$40. 707.433.6335.

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