Since its first performance in Bakersfield two years ago, LaQuette Milner has been polishing her play, "Da' Hip-Hop Wizzard of Oz." Now she feels it's ready for the big time.
"I wanted it to be perfect; that's why it took so long," said the Cal State Bakersfield theater arts graduate. "The timing is finally right to travel to various theaters, so that (the play) can be brought to more audiences nationwide."
The final version will be presented on Saturday at the Dore Theatre at CSUB. A major improvement, she believes, was having the music professionally recorded and edited in Los Angeles.
"We do all the singing -- we're not just mouthing the words," she said. "The music is groovy, very catchy; kids will walk out of the theater singing the music."
She refers to the show as a "dancial" because it features about 60 dances of various styles -- ballet, tap, hip-hop and jazz. Running time is under two hours.
Milner's show is loosely based on the original "Wizard of Oz." She plays Dorothy, a teenage girl who lives in Bakersfield and yearns to get out of town so she can follow her dreams. She faces opposition from friends and family, however.
"It's only when she gets swept away to this mysterious hip-hop infused Land of Oz that she's able to able to build the confidence she needs to follow her dreams," Milner said.
She meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, who travel with her to find the Great Wizzard of Oz. But he tells them he cannot grant their wishes until Dorothy kills Ms. Evilbean, the wicked witch of the Westside. To do this, they must battle the "police monkeys." Unlike the film version, the monkeys are not airborne.
"They wear masks and helmets with 'police' written on the front," the playwright said. "But they don't fly. "
And does Dorothy return home to Bakersfield after her adventure?
"I leave it on a cliff," Milner said. "She has to figure out how it ends, and so does the audience."
Several members of the cast are Bakersfield residents. The troupe practice and hold classes at Center Stage, a studio at 1710 Chester Ave. in downtown Bakersfield. Milner said the show will have performances in 2013 in Atlanta and Riverside.
After graduation from Rialto High School in 1997, Milner, now 32, went to New York and attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Following that, she was a member of the national tour of Nickelodeon's "Rugrats." She has lived in Bakersfield since 2000.
"Da' Wizzard" is produced by LQ's Productions, an extension of LQ's Performing Arts Center, a nonprofit organization formed in 2004. Milner said the group's purpose is to empower and enrich the Bakersfield community with an understanding and appreciation for the performing arts through educational classes, travel experience, intensive training, and performances that are informative and uplifting.
Santa at The Empty Space
Bob Kempf has drummed up some surprises for this year's "Hurry Up Santa" at The Empty Space.
"The biggest change," he said, "is that for the first time the evil news reporter is played by a woman, Claire Rock, which adds an interesting dynamic to the show."
Initially, Kempf thought switching the character's gender would convey a softer touch. It didn't turn out that way, however.
"I thought perhaps a female in that part might be more sympathetic," he said. "But Claire seems to relish the sinister aspects of the character, and that's fun to see."
Kempf is the writer and director of the musical comedy, which has been performed periodically during the holiday season for about the last 10 years. The title gives you a hint about the plot. Basically, it's about what happens when Santa oversleeps and puts a crimp in the traditional Christmas Eve deliveries, and the elves have to scramble to get things going.
One of the highlights of this year's show is when Santa's elves unexpectedly find themselves dancing to a popular song which turns out to be an international hit.
"This also marks the third time that our second act revue is an installment of 'The Jack Frost TV Variety' show, a spoof of classic television holiday specials," Kempf said. "This time we find the family of Jack Frost desperately trying to put on a show while Jack is in the hospital. However, it's pretty hard to keep Jack, who considers himself a top showman, away from the proceedings."
It's a large cast with more than 20 actors. Some are new to the show; others are veterans of past productions. Final performances of "Hurry Up, Santa" are scheduled for Dec. 21-23.
Valley fever benefit
For the second year in a row, the New Life Center church will present a Christmas concert at Rabobank Theater benefitting the Valley Fever Foundation. And once again, it's a family affair featuring Lydia Ranger, a well-known vocalist who is co-pastor of the church with her husband, James Ranger.
Michelle Portillo, Lydia Ranger's assistant, explained the singer's personal interest in helping the foundation raise money.
"Her husband had valley fever," Portillo said.
He's recovered now but the couple want to raise money for the foundation, especially now that there's been a cut in funding for research to find a vaccine for the disease.
Admission to the concert is free but donations will be accepted. The show is also supported by several local businesses.
Also appearing will be the Rangers' sons, Jim and Jon Ranger -- Jim, with his band, Lonely Avenue. Jim has tried out for "American Idol" and also fronts the band Soulajar, which will not be part of the show.