We’re off to see ... Beech Grove’s revamp of family classic
By Melanie Tucker | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Since December, drama team members at Beech Grove Baptist Church have been building sets, sewing costumes, learning lines and honing their acting skills for what will be their biggest production to date — a musical comedy full of characters we already know and love.
The drama team, which calls itself Spiritual Performing Arts Ministry, or SPAM, is taking on the revamping of “The Wizard of Oz” and transforming it into “The Wizard of Odd.” Dorothy is now Dot, but the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow and other familiar characters will still be taking their places along that winding path.
Buddy Wolfe is codirector for this massive undertaking and also plays the Tin Man. He said he wrote this parable/parody of “The Wizard of Oz” because he wanted to present something that is comfortably familiar to audiences and then add a spiritual twist.
A different take
“The ‘Wizard of Oz’ is about finding the answer inside yourself,” Wolfe said. “Ours points obviously toward finding the answer in Christ.” The Scarecrow finds wisdom instead of knowledge and the Lion learns not to worry through trusting in Christ.
Because Wolfe has worked with many of the cast members in other productions, he knew exactly who to cast in what roles. Janet Ratliff plays Dot, while Steve McCullough takes on the role of the Lion. Dana Hummel codirects this play with Wolfe and also plays the Scarecrow. Scott Cupp will bring the Sneaky Scoundrel to life on stage, this drama team’s replacement of the Wicked Witch.
There are some incredible singers in the mix, Wolfe said, but he isn’t one of them. Turns out, that’s perfect for this musical comedy.
“The Tin Man is expected to sing badly, and I am exceeding all expectations,” this Alcoa Middle School teacher said, laughing.
Hummel said each actor certainly brings his or her unique talent to the mix. She said the whole motivation behind this production is to provide families some wholesome entertainment, something she and others think is sadly missing these days.
“There are so many groups that say there is nothing wholesome for children or the community to go to,” she said. “This is something we have been talking about. Maybe we can start bringing people in to things like this and that will encourage other churches to do something similar so that our churches can go to each other and experience something good.”
Hummel’s Scarecrow character will probably be a crowd favorite, said Ratliff, who is Dot. The Scarecrow certainly brings some comic relief to the stage, and she has perhaps the greatest line in the entire play. You’ll have to see it for yourself.
There is the whole dream sequence of events that sets this play into motion. Ratliff said Dot appears at the beginning of the play as someone who feels alone with no one standing in her corner. The journey that follows brings in a cast of characters who take that same path with her.
“It is a good family atmosphere,” this cast member explained. “You don’t have to worry about what you are going to hear or see.”
Ratliff has a beautiful voice so Wolfe definitely knew what he was doing casting her as Dot. But Ratliff also had her suspicions. “There is one line that says ‘I am to old for this,’” she said. “I think he had me in mind for that.”
Many of the actors have made their own costumes and helped others with theirs. A talented artist in the production, John Duckett, has worked on sets and even painted a canvas of these cast members. Others taking the stage for these performances are Sharon Long, Dan Roark, Gracie Gentry, Erin Gennoe, Alyssa Hummel, Kevonna Hayes and Abby Dill.
These drama team members are like the rest of us who hold down regular jobs and then find time after a long day to work on something we are passionate about. The production will last about an hour, Wolfe estimated. And while the songs might seem as familiar as the characters, they, too have been tweaked a little.
Wolfe said it could have been a long year of rehearsals had it not been such a blast.
“It has been a lot of work but it’s one of those things where you are serving God and you feel guilty even considering this serving because it’s been so much fun.”
The whole purpose, as Wolfe and the others see it, is to “light a candle and to sneak past sleeping dragons.”
Too often in society and in the church, we “curse the darkness rather than light a candle,” Wolfe explained. Many will complain about the lack of good, family entertainment, but few, including the church, are willing to do anything about it, he said.
Getting the message out
Wolfe explained that C.S. Lewis said he wrote “The Chronicles of Narnia” to get past “sleeping dragons” — to get out the Christian message past the defenses people have formed against religion.
“We want our plays to be entertaining and with a message but not one you are clubbed over the head with,” Wolfe said.
As for what comes out of this, no one can know. Maybe other churches will take on similar projects. Maybe Beech Grove will be packed for all three performances of this play. Ratliff said their job is to present this message of Christ and accept what develops.
“We will leave it in God’s hands and trust Him,” she said.