First released in 1939, "The Wizard of Oz" remains one of the most captivating movies of all time, despite the scary presence of the Wicked Witch of the West. Years later, while working as a movie critic for the New York Daily News, I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on the first real reunion of some of the key members of the cast of the movie along with the producer Mervyn LeRoy.
Margaret Hamilton, who terrorized so many children as the evil witch, turned out to be a genteel, soft-spoken actress who couldn't even have killed a black fly. Ray Bolger, whom I first met during one of his frequent summer visits to Lake Placid, seemed slightly heavier than the unforgettable character he played - that is the Scarecrow - but his mind was still as nimble as his dancing feet while his face, then a healthy shade of pink, glowed with mischief. Jack Haley, the movie's Tin Man, also appeared to be in the pink. The two actors continued to crack jokes and complain about what it was like to remain in full costume on an unbearably hot set until Hamilton leaned over and said softly, "You're in the presence of two nuts, one super-nut. They're always on. The thing to remember about them is everything they say is a joke."
I was reminded of this memorable luncheon this past weekend while watching the Community Theater Players' incredibly imaginative and equally unforgettable theatrical production of "The Wizard of Oz" on the stage of the Harrietstown Town Hall. Directed with irrepressible energy and playful wit by the gifted Matt Sorensen and performed with remarkable ease by an amazingly talented cast of local actors and young dancers, the play cast a magical spell on the entire audience. One of the many children in the audience, a little girl, kept staring at the stage as the intermission began.
Photo — Bob Sweet
As Munchkins cower in the background, the Wicked Witch of the West, left (played by Leslie Dame), threatens Dorothy, right (played by Olivia Zeis), who is protected by Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (played by Kim Weems.) The Community Theatre Players’ production of “The Wizard of Oz” was performed last weekend in Saranac Lake.
"Where did they all go?," she asked forlornly as her mother tried to explain that everyone was taking a break and "going to the potty."
Despite the obvious limitations of the Town Hall, which has no backstage area, the choreographer Terpsie Toon staged some wonderfully original dance numbers with mostly local students who seemed perfectly at ease on stage. The cast could not have been better. Olivia Zeis displayed both her singing and dancing ability, not to mention her glittering red shoes as Dorothy. Dyan Duffy was hilariously loose-jointed as the Scarecrow. Leslie Dame was nearly as terrifying as Margaret Hamilton as the cackling Wicked Witch. At one point, she made a brief appearance on the balcony where I was sitting. A boy, sitting near me, was so alarmed by her presence he started to suck his thumb. He had even more reason to be scared when the green and mean-looking face of the elusive Wizard of Oz, played by Terry Kemp, flashed on a video screen overlooking the stage.
The performance ended with a well-deserved standing ovation, a confirmation of just how lucky everyone felt to witness such a terrific, Broadway-worthy show in the heart of the Adirondacks.
Kathleen Carroll lives in Jay.