There's no place like Palmer!


January 24, 2002


BRAWLEY — No one in Brawley is complaining that there's nothing to do this week. In fact, anyone who dared to mention they had some free time in the last month or two was immediately lassoed into the production of "The Wizard of Oz," premiering Friday in Palmer Performing Arts Center.

If one could invent a project that would involve people of all ages, from all walks of life and with a variety of interests and talents, it would be a musical. Indispensable to "Wizard" have been a welder, carpenters, painters, seamstresses, singers, musicians, sound and lighting specialists, dancers, choreographers, artists, children galore and, of course, their parents. And let's not forget the actors themselves.

Those who love creating the illusion that fills the dramatic stage have been drawn to this four-month effort by North County Coalition for the Arts.


Bob Nelson, a U.S. Border Patrol agent from Imperial, has been directing rehearsals since September. He's also a major set builder with the help of his son, Aaron.

Nelson was a perfect Daddy Warbucks in NoCCA's 1999 "Annie" production, Bill Sykes in NoCCA's "Oliver" in 2000 and now plays the Scarecrow in "Wizard."

Transformed from their real-life roles are Brawley Boys and Girls Club Director Judy Chilcott as an evil witch, Holtville psychologist Deborah Montoya as the good witch and Brawley surgeon Dr. Bernard Schaaf as the Wizard himself. (Schaaf's been waiting for this part!)

Every musical becomes a family affair, with parents and relatives unable to resist getting involved.

Megan Strahm returns to the Palmer stage as Dorothy, having starred in "Annie" and the Artful Dodger in "Oliver." Her mother Frances handles costumes and a million other details. Her father, Holtville farmer Cliff Strahm, is (gratefully, he says) completely unrecognizable in the Tin Man costume. Sister Melissa is choreographer.

Brawley elementary teacher Richard Knights plays the Cowardly Lion, having delighted "Annie" audiences as Rooster Hannigan. His children Rachel, William and Joshua also are in the cast.

Janet Cowne, art instructor at Brawley Union High, designed, built, drew and painted several backdrops with her art students, her own teen-age children, Diane Zinn and anyone else who offered to take up a brush or a roller. The backdrops are dazzling paintings 47 by 30 feet.

Brawley Parks and Recreation Department Director Karin Morgan casts a huge shadow as the Wicked Witch of the West, with daughter Megan the backstage boss as production stage manager.

Deputy District Attorney Deborah Owen also is a witch (her mother says there may be people at the courthouse who agree), son Jordan is a munchkin and husband, Jimmy, welded the rotating bridge.

Randy Smith, shop instructor at Brawley High, built a rotating bridge, a house, a witch's cauldron and other sets with his Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program students.

Helping Smith and Nelson on sets was businessman Jay Kruger, with his two munchkins, Janna and Melissa, painting away.

Forty-two munchkins flutter around the auditorium, parents hovering nearby. Many families have two or three children in the production. The munchkin costumes make a huge splash of chaotic color on stage, with wildly imaginative hats accented with flowers, birds and butterflies.

There are bright red dancing jitterbugs with fuzzy bodies and silvery antennae, generals in tall black fur hats and Oz girls sparkling in brilliant green dresses. The list seems endless.

The North County Orchestra, made up of many local school band directors, tirelessly rehearses in the pit at Palmer, Steven Cosio heads up the tech crew and strong dads and others move heavy sets.

Patricia Saracco, president of NoCCA, oversees the budget and coordinates and rehearses the musicians and cast. When Saracco founded NoCCA in 1998, she hoped that it would provide wholesome activities in the arts for the whole community.

"Wizard of Oz" certainly seems like the fruition of that goal.

"Wizard of Oz" performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available by calling Palmer's box office at 351-0789 and at Lou Lange's Music Bar in Brawley and Clark Baker Music in El Centro. Tickets are $20 and $10 and half-price for students through college.

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