Off to see the (environmentally friendly) wizard in Oakland
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Off to see the (environmentally friendly) wizard in Oakland

Forty-five children and eight adults star next week in "The Wizard of Voz," an original take-off dreamed up by a parent and two teachers at Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland.

"Just a week and a half before Earth Day, the show is a wonderful way to teach children about the importance of environmentalism," said Beth Paley of Wayne, a co-writer, co-director, and main choreographer for the musical production.


These "vegetables" in the GBDSSS play are, from left, Eden Yosef, Erin Rivera, Jessica Siegel, Paige Suchoff, Tal Vaknin, and Talia Zames.

"We wanted to do a version of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but the royalties are very expensive, so we decided to write our own version loosely based on it and modernized — Dorothy has her adventures inside a computer game. Next year’s school theme is environmentalism; we are getting a jump on that."

Using parodies of songs from artists such as Santana, Madonna, and the Plain White Ts, the show centers around a character dubbed Dorothy Gayle Hershkowitz who lives with her Aunt Esther and Uncle Harry. Uncle Harry and Rabbi Steiner are trying to save a local park, but their efforts keep getting thwarted by the evil property developer Ms. Skye Scraper and her Concrete Construction Company.

One day, while Dorothy is deeply absorbed in her new computer game, VOZ (Virtual Outland Zone), a power outage sucks Dorothy herself into Level 1 of the game, where she encounters the Magic Sprouts and the good hippy witch Flower Spirithawk. They ask Dorothy to save them from Ms. Wicked Witch, who has been trying to steal their magic pomegranate filled with seeds to make green things grow. Dorothy must take the pomegranate to the Wizard (aka Rabbi Steiner) at an Earth Day rally in Paradise City. On her way, she meets the Organic Scarecrow, the Recycled Tin Man, and the Endangered Lion. At the end, a newly enlightened Dorothy promises to help Uncle Harry save the park.

"It’s quite loud when we get together for final run-throughs," said Paley with a laugh. A writer and editor for a marketing services company, she worked on the production for several weeks with teachers Rachel Greenwald and Dassi Rosenkrantz-Cabo. Her twins, sixth-graders Hannah and David, are both in the show; David is the Endangered Lion and Hannah is a percussionist in the orchestra.

"Three years ago, the school did its first production, ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ and I auditioned and offered my services as choreographer," said Paley. "I helped out more than I expected, and we had such a great time that we decided to do the next year’s show, too."

The three women designed the costumes, and Greenwald created them from scratch with assistance from teachers and parents. "She’s the queen of the dollar store and the fabric store," said Paley.

Dorothy is played by Jeryl Lippe of Mahwah, a seventh-grader who has been acting since she was 5 and takes professional voice lessons. Jeryl said the biggest challenge of the role was having to "learn a lot of lines because I’m in almost every scene."

The production — to be staged Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne — has a professional sound and lighting crew, computer-generated graphics, and young professional musicians playing guitar and bass guitar. Piano accompaniment is by Rosenkrantz-Cabo, the school’s music teacher.

Tickets cost $8 and are available from the school or at the door. Call (’01) 337-1111.

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