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'No place like home' resonates in Wizard of Oz at Gammage

Thirteen-year-old Patrick Devine was one of more than 300 guests at ASU Gammage's Heroes Night celebration that preceded the fabulous, house-packed, opening of the North AmericanTour of Wizard of Oz last night. Patrick and his military family helped emphasize the show's resonant and newly turbo-boosted theme of 'no place like home.'

Opening night 'Wizard of Oz' at ASU Gammage honors military with Heroes Night, February 2014
Opening night 'Wizard of Oz' at ASU Gammage honors military with Heroes Night, February 2014
Jamie McKnight plays the Scarecrow in the Broadway Tour of Wizard of Oz at Gammage

Patrick has become quite attached to musical theatre in the recent past. Before arriving at the Oz Heroes Night, he had watched both the classic Wizard of Oz movie and the recent, more contemporary version. The black and white farmyard scene Patrick recalls from the original movie got trumped up to cozy, coffee-creamy sepia tones in this Canada-based production as the first scene opened. In addition, Webber and Rice have brought this live theater Oz revival into the 21st century by providing new complementary lyrics and music.

Uncle Henry, Auntie Em and the farmhands sung smooth, blended blues back to Dorothy rather than relying on traditional dialogue. Her own plight was also accentuated by new teenage-angst lyrics and music ('Nobody Understands Me'). Professor Marvel's humbug got a harmonic facelift, too ('Wonders of the World'). Then, Dorothy (Danielle Wade) knocked it over the rainbow with a 'Somewhere' that was bigger and rounder and fuller than the most loyal Judy Garland fan could deny. And hold onto your gingham apron during the IMAX-sized twister immersion!

When the audience landed in the re-envisioned technicolor Oz onstage, Patrick's favorite character, "the Straw Man" finally appeared. "I'd want to play him, especially in that whole sequence that leads to the green temple, " he offered. Wielding practiced talent certain not to disappoint Patrick, Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight), with new contemporized lines, inflections and lyrics stole the show with his endearing, cerebral dim-wittedness.

Attending Wizard of Oz and other Broadway tour shows on Heroes Nights (Gammage's annual pre-show event that honors veterans and active duty military) isn't the only Gammage community outreach that's turned Patrick into a song and dance man. He's also received scholarships the last three summers to attend Gammage's Camp Broadway, a week long experience where theater-loving kids express themselves through performing arts with the help of Broadway professionals.

Patrick's mom, Teresa Devine, who refers to her own childhood as that of a "military brat," said, "He went from a very shy, reserved person to one who communicates without being so nervous. The chance Gammage gave Patrick to see Billy Elliot a few years back [in a similar Heroes Night] changed him. His career goal is to be a dancer/singer/actor."

As a current tap dance student, Patrick said, "Billy Elliot inspired me to do tap and be in shows. I'm not afraid to actually go out and be open with other people."

Happily for Patrick, after the traditional oil can tune up, the creaky Tin Man (Mike Jackson) in last night's show impressively tapped his way down the yellow brick road.

Following a magical scene of flying monkeys and a rousing Russian-sword-dancing corps of Winkies who more than earned their keep, the Wicked Witch of the West (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan) sang a wicked-fun, new number, 'Red Shoe Blues.' All too soon, the firmament re-opened and the crowd tumbled, IMAX style, through the cosmos, back through the funnel cloud, and safely back onto home turf in Kansas with Dorothy.

Merging his own sentiments with the show's theme, Patrick's dad, Sergeant First Class Eric Devine, recalled his 2009-10 Iraq deployment. "The sun is so hot there, it's like needles pricking at you." After noting his barracks had been bombed during his stay, he said, "The longer you're there, the more that base gets smaller and smaller. It closes in on you. And you're really, really, really ready to go home."

Happy to have had Gammage's help keeping her family at home strong while her husband was away, Teresa Devine said, "Gammage plays an extremely important role in our family, with an impact bigger than they can ever know." Not unlike the closing Wizard of Oz lyrics last night, their theatre programs and community outreach have helped instill the idea that "Home is a place in your heart."

Wizard of Oz runs through Sunday. Not to be missed, it is a golden new journey down a familiar old brick road .

-Jennifer Haaland

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