Warning: there are cartoonists in the audience.

The idea hit Colleen Frakes like a baby grand piano after cutting the tenuous string tied to it: cartoonists drawing at the theater! The Portland Mercury recently featured an article called Comic Night at the Opera where they invited local cartoonists to watch a show for free in exchange for the art they would create while watching the show. Frakes knew that Northern Stage, the White River Junction theater production company, had long wished to create ties witih the Center for Cartoon Studies and vice versa. And so it began.

Twenty-odd cartoonists showed up from the first year class, second year, some alumni and a few of the faculty. We were warned to sit on the front row because THIS particular show used a dog as a character and no lamps could be used. Mild anticipation sat in as most of us has seen the Wizard of Oz a million times before. Boy, did we not realize what was about to happen. The small but excellently-chosen cast featured not one weak actor. The main characters shone, born for those roles while the ensemble cast wowed us with a dozen costume changes and internal transformations. The small stage created an intimate setting and on more than occasion we were staring at the back (and buttocks) of an actor adding to the realism.

A page from Colleen Frakes‘ sketcbook.

A page from Jan Berger‘s Sketchbook

The musical numbers drew you in and then the hot-stepping blood-pumping dance numbers practically threw you from your seat. A quick glance around the audience and I saw barely a pencil, pen or waterbrush moving during the show-stopping numbers like the  fabulously 80’s Emerald City and the dirty 20’s Jitterbug dance. I could help but laugh, whoop and holler at the amount of energy flowing between the performers.

Left to right: Lena Chanhok, Bryan Stone and Jen Vaughn

Sarah Cubbage, recently awarded with a Bessie for her wondrous costume design in Radio Show, struck solid gold, or should we say GREEN, with her costumes in the Wizard of Oz. The Tin Man, Dorothy, Scarecrow and Wicked Witch were recognizable in a traditional sense. The Cowardly Lion inhabited a suit made of the sweetest pin curls cascading down onto a fluffly suit with occasional fur mats! Jon Chad‘s illustration perfectly captures both costume and character! As a show of thanks, we sent all our drawings to the Northern Stage wizard-behind-the-curtain who in turn gave the cast and crew copies of the artwork to celebrate. 

Clockwise from the top: Lena Chandhok, Jen Vaughn, Colleen Frakes and Bryan Stone

If you happen to be in the Vermont or New Hampshire area, please take a night and go see this amazing show, The Wizard of Oz. You’ll forget how amazingly small this town is when you allow yourself to be swept away to the land of Oz, even if just for a few hours.

-Jen Vaughn

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