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‘The Wizard of Oz’ at The Ziegfeld Theater

By Karen Painter - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Sep 18, 2022
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“The Wizard of Oz” is such a classic. Dorothy goes looking for something more and discovers she needn’t look past her own backyard. Whatever we think we need, we already have,” said Caleb Parry, director and executive producer at The Ziegfeld Theater in Ogden.

Parry presented the classic tale in both English and American Sign Language (ASL) from August 12 to September 3 at The Ziegfeld Theater. It will also run from September 9-18 at Egyptian Theatre in Park City.

Three members of the cast were part of the Deaf community and collaborated with another actor who voiced the English counterpart: Britton Auman was Scarecrow, voiced by Samuel Young; Janelle Nielsen was Aunt Em/Glinda, voiced by Hannah Wetzker; A. Bret Cummens was Professor Chest Marvel/Wizard, voiced by Tim Behunin.

“We presented this show in ASL and with Deaf actors because we wanted to offer an inclusive performance for our Deaf community. To me, that means they don’t have to watch an interpreter the whole time and lose out on watching the action,” Parry said.

Just as Parry hoped, the show made an impact on members of the Deaf community. After a performance, Parry received a text from a parent with a Deaf son: “My son felt like the show was just for him. He had never seen a show without interpreters on the side. Now he feels like theater is something he can do,” the text said.

Giovanna Greef brought her 8-year-old daughter, Phoenix, to see the show. Phoenix has cochlear implants. She was deafened in each ear at different ages, so she received her first implant at age 3 and the second one at age 5.

“Phoenix wishes for a world where everyone could sign. Seeing Dorothy with her dog and signing made her excited. When the rest of the cast came out signing, it almost put her in shock. Now, here was a world she had only previously imagined,” Greef said.

Phoenix was especially happy to see Janelle Neilsen as Aunt Em/Glinda. Neilsen worked at Phoenix’s school for a while but left without having a chance to say goodbye. Neilsen has also performed with Witness Music in “The Lamb of God” for four years as Mary Magdalene and Martha, and has filmed an ASL music video with The Piano Guys and Access Simplified.

“As a deaf actor, it’s not often an opportunity to act in a lead happens. Thank you for a dream come true,” Nielsen said.

When Phoenix saw Nielsen, she was “squealing and signing to those around us,” her mother said. “Being able to see someone she loves so much onstage was really impactful. She has not stopped talking about it since. It was an amazing reminder of why representation matters,” Greer said.

Caleb Parry said watching Nielsen take a photo with Phoenix in her Glinda costume was “pure magic and filled all our eyes with tears. What we do and how we present the material really does matter,” Parry said.

Just like Phoenix and Dorothy, maybe we can all “find what we are looking for right in our own backyard.”

Visit www.zigarts.com and www.parkcityshows.com.

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