|Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks |
On Monday night, luminaries from Congress, Circuit Court, City Council and local
television all got into the act, proving that while the world's a stage, few can beat
the seductive thrills of being called to act on Arena Stage. The one-hour performance
of "Arena Stage in Oz" starred NBC 4 sportscaster Lindsay Czarniak (above)
playing the coquettish role of Dorothy.
There could not have been a more clever adaptation of the 1939 film classic Wizard of Oz than the one which unfolded onstage at Arena Stage Monday at its 17th annual benefit in Crystal City.
In the spirit of community engagement and top-flight theatre which the $250-per-seat fundraiser celebrated, luminaries from congress, circuit court, city council and local television all got into the act, proving that while the world's a stage, few can beat the seductive thrills of being called to act on Arena Stage.
|Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks |
The empty office space was tricked out with all the
trimmings of the MGM classic, including emerald-green
drapes, confetti, a rainbow and a yellow brick road.
Costumed Oz characters mingled freely with the
The one-hour performance of "Arena Stage in Oz" was an original musical revue by Michael Bobbit. It included a sterling guest performance by NBC 4 sportscaster Lindsay Czarniak playing the coquettish role of Dorothy -- bright blue checkered dress, ruby red slippers, the works -- and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton as Glinda the Good Witch.
Others local dignitaries performing were DC Councilmembers Jack Evans and Tommy Wells, Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) and Chief Judge William T. Newman of the Arlington Circuit Court, as emcee. The actresses E. Faye Butler and Marva Hicks from this spring's production of "Crowns" also had major supporting roles.
The quirky show played out "somewhere beyond the Potomac," as Dorothy (Czarniak), a down-and-out-girl from Sixth and Maine, is trying to find her way back home after a twister inadvertently drops her in Crystal City. Dorothy’s lost in the endless tunnels of Crystal City, and Metro is too confusing for her to figure out, despite advice from talking yellow bricks (played by child actors) to take the Yellow Line to L’Enfant Plaza.
Dorothy encounters Virginiakins (Pietro and Oscar), journeys over Capitol Hills and thick Foggy Bottoms, and braves the economy, recession, and budget—"Oh, my!" Braving the twister of an economy, audience members were encouraged to sing and clap -- and offer pledge cards of support to Arena Stage.
Dorothy eventually makes her way to the Wizard (Wells), who tells her to click her heels 20 million times to get home. The only problem is that Dorothy doesn’t have her ruby slippers anymore: They were taken from her when she was mugged and suffered what Czarniak describes as "a beatdown." Emerging unscathed but slipperless, Czarniak is told by Norton that all she has to do is believe to fine her way home, which she does, in a blazing finale of song and dance.
Arena's writers, choreographers and set design wizards built out an impressive and expansive Oz
re-make which gave justice to the full three-strip Technicolor moviepiece which placed the original into Hollywood legend.
|Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks|
Prior to the show, Arena supporters got a taste of Oz
when they gathered for a gala benefit, live auction and
Taste of Crystal City. Vornado CEO Mitchell Schear
and Crystal City BID President Angela Fox helped to
raise bids for Arena Stage during the auction.
Indeed, when the curtain rose with Dorothy's house being dropped into Munchkin Land, the marketing geniuses of sponsor Vornado/Charles E. Smith Companies had the good sense to imagine for the audience that Dorothy's journey to Emerald City was not unlike Artistic Director Molly Smith's trek last year from the District to Crystal City.
"When we re-staged here last year we had to move over 20,000 shoes and 12,000 audience members," Smith recalled. "Some days we feel like we live in Oz, surrounded by all the biscuit-colored buildings."
Prior to the show, Arena supporters got a taste of Oz when they gathered for a gala benefit, live auction and Taste of Crystal City held on the eighth floor of the Vornado/Charles E. Smith headquarters.
The empty office space was tricked out with all the trimmings of the MGM classic, including emerald-green drapes, confetti, a rainbow and a yellow brick road. Costumed Oz characters mingled freely with the upscale crowd, as Vornado CEO Mitchell Schear and Crystal City BID President Angela Fox helped to raise bids for Arena Stage during a live auction.
"Arena Stage has had a tremendous welcome from Crystal City," Smith said, as givers grazed on small plates of hors d'oeuvres from Crystal City Drive eateries, including Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Jaleo and Main Event Caterers. Signature items offered in the auction included a springtime New York getaway weekend, a Michael Yurman necklace and exclusive use of WJLA TV's box for 20 guests at a Washington Nationals game.
Afterwards, the 400 or so guests followed Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scare Crow and Cowardly Lion down a maze of underground tunnels to the Arena theater for Bobbitt's masterful musical revue.
Before the curtain rose, Smith energetically gave two awards to members of the arts community.
|photo by John Arundel |
The cast gathers for an encore.
The American Voice Award was presented to the outgoing chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia, who argued that under his leadership the NEA supported 800 new theatrical works, giving 2,000 actors and stage professionals work and allowing 1.5 million schoolchildren to see a Shakespeare play.
"The arts are an absolutely essential component in the life of this country," Goia said. "I'm proud to say that Washington has now become one of the great theatre cities in the English-speaking world...And this theatre took the leadership in a theatre town, helping thousands of kids see a play or participate in the theatre."
Smith bestowed The American Artist Award to the late Robert “Bob” Alexander, the founder and 30-year artistic director for Arena’s Living Stage. "Bob created and lived the concept of socially active theatre," Smith said of Alexander, who died last February at age 79.
"I spent my entire childhood roaming the halls of Arena without shoes on," said his son Taro Alexander, who accepted the award in honor of his late father. "If my dad were here he might say that everyone comes out of the womb an artist. Everyone has something important to share with the world. Every child deserves the right to have a voice and be heard. If a child is told no enough times, they'll stop dancing, they'll stop dreaming."
The latter award was given in honor of Robert Prosky, a vibrant member of the Arena Stage community for 23 years and over 12,000 performances. "Actors touch us in a way that no one else can," Smith said. "When I looked at the range of this man's talent it revealed so many aspects of the human condition. That's what happens with great actors."
Monday's Annual Benefit raised about one-third of the necessary funds to run Arena Stage's Community Engagement programs, which Smith said educates and enriches the lives of 20,000 students from across the region.
"Our young people are the core of what we do," Smith added. "Participating in the theatre causes them to have better self-esteem and allows their true talents to come out."
Email the reporter at email@example.com
See more photos of Arena Stage in Oz at DIGITAL KICKS.