MOUNT VERNON — As one show technician put it before Wednesday evening’s “Wizard of Oz” musical production comparing the old sound system in the Memorial Building Theater to the new system “is kind of like going from a bicycle to the space shuttle.”
In other words, there simply is no comparison. The new Meyer sound system and its Yamaha Mixing Console appear compact in size, but the system delivers a movie theater-scale quality. Tornado sound effects and even explosive sound effects when the “Wizard of Oz” makes his grand appearances are pulled off to perfection. And then there’s the wizardry of the rigging system, which allows characters including Glinda the Good Witch, the Wicked Witch of the West, and actors decked out as crows and flying monkeys to “fly” at will. When Glinda does so, she is seated in a rather ornate “orb,” quite a bit more fetching than the bad witch’s broom.
“There have been no complaints,” said show Director Bruce Jacklin, adding no crackling or popping of microphones have occurred, and no “cutting out” of microphones, either. “There’s a strong sense of clarity of sound in our new system also.” That clarity means there is only a 2 decibels difference in sound no matter where one sits in the 1,003-seat theater, including the balcony seats.
The entire “Wizard of Oz” production features about 60 cast members, a production team handling choreography, costumes and other theatrical duties, a music director and choruses, and an orchestra. It has gone about as good as it can go, Jacklin said — the first MTVarts performance under its new designation as Memorial Theater’s residential theater company.
“The sound and the lights are fantastic,” said character acting veteran Thor Collard of Centerburg, who was one of the audience favorites with his recreation of the Cowardly Lion. “We actors have all new microphones.”
Collard added that unlike other theaters, where an orchestra can unintentionally drown out theatrical voices to some degree, this new sounds system does not allow for that problem. All actors voice words and sing, and they are clearly heard.
A trio of music teachers involved in the production offered their views of overall sound quality for the “Wizard of Oz.” One of them, Colleen Fitzpatrick of Marengo, plays Glinda the Good Witch. She is a kindergarten through grade 5 music teacher in her third year of teaching who will teach this fall at Noble Academy in Euclid.
“I feel privileged to be singing into this new sound system of such high quality,” said Fitzpatrick, who has previously performed in local shows including “Mary Poppins” and “Beauty and the Beast.” But it’s the quality of the show’s director, musical director and production team that is just as important, she noted.
Veteran actress and singer Mary Rugola Dye, a retired music teacher who taught at three Mount Vernon elementary schools, has come full circle with this “Wizard of Oz” performance. Thirty-two years ago, she played the Wicked Witch of the West. There was no rigging system back then to carry actors through the air, she said. In this show, she is an ensemble cast member who sings as an Ozzian (a land of Oz resident), as a Munchkin as well, and as part of the Optimistic Voices chorus that opens each of the two acts with their sublime tones. Accompanying them is the show orchestra, directed by yet another music teacher — Dane Heuchemer, a Distinguished Professor of Music at Kenyon College.
“The flying through the air, and all of the special effects are part of the magic that Bruce (Jacklin) has been able to put together. It’s just incredible,” Dye said.
Music Director Diane Dingler, a voice teacher at Kenyon, has been part of MTVarts productions for more than a dozen years. She called the new sound system a significant improvement.
“It’s much, much more dependable, let’s put it that way,” she said. “The sounds are much cleaner. It’s easier to understand diction.”
Dingler said the chorus rehearsals for the show were sublime moments of teaching for her because chorus members would take what she was teaching and put it to immediate application on stage.
“They’re not just there to have a good time singing,” she said. “They come out of our rehearsals with more knowledge gained as to how to sing with different vocal techniques.”
One highly popular show character who does not have to sing — or make a sound at all — is the character Toto, a real dog played by Zoe Eash, a 5-year-old West Highland terrier. Zoe, making her MTVarts debut, nearly stole the show — judging by the audience’s adoration. But when Toto needs to bark, it comes not from Zoe — a sound effect takes care of it. A white “Westie” as the dog breed is known for, Zoe needed a “coloring” to have the look of Toto.