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Alan Poindexter, artistic director, Children's Theatre

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There's a delicious watchword hovering like a black cloud over the 2007-08 theater season: Wicked!

Theater fanatics have waited for two years, hoping the next announcement from the N.C. Blumenthal Performing Arts Center would bring word the smash musical is coming to town. Wicked is the attraction that is driving subscription sales for this season's Broadway Lights Series. The blockbuster finally touches down at Ovens Auditorium on April 9-20.

But wickedness, witchery and the wonderful Land of Oz aren't the sole province of Ovens. You only need wait until Sept. 28 to sip the intoxicating brew with the Munchkins in your household.

Alan Poindexter will wield the fearsome broomstick at ImaginOn, directing the Children's Theatre production of The Wizard of Oz in all its Warner Brothers musical glory through Oct. 20 -- while portraying the Wicked Witch of the West.

It's a double homecoming for Poindexter. He's returning to a crossdressing role he first visited 10 years ago. That non-musical version, staged at Spirit Square, was part of a citywide Land of Oz celebration that embraced pre-ImaginOn Children's Theatre, Discovery Place, and the Char-Meck School System. It's also the first time Poindexter has acted onstage in more than five years.

Can the CT artistic director be a tad nervous about the grandiose opening of the company's 60th season? You bet.

"It's scary on many levels," Poindexter admits, "because there has been an iconic performance that everybody in the world knows. You can watch [Margaret Hamilton] anytime you want, and she does it to perfection. You're fighting that and the fact that I could possibly be rusty."

Or perhaps too adventurous on the creative side.

"When the book was published," Poindexter observes, "it was a smash success, and it redefined what a fairy tale could be. It's an American fairy tale, really the first fairy tale to use American elements. It's daunting because the archetypes that were created are so embedded in everybody's mind. The story is broad enough to be reinterpreted in many ways. I'm just hoping that our audience will allow us to do that."

Children's Theatre will certainly have better technical artillery in its second invasion of Oz. The 1997 production was notorious for never having a dress rehearsal. "Because the smoke set off the alarm at Spirit Square every night," Poindexter recalls.

The tech hexing that haunted Spirit Square has never plagued the new ImaginOn, now heading into year three. Poindexter is calling upon actor/director Mark Sutton to serve as his second set of eyes when the director is onstage as the Witch -- and at the vortex of the smoke, fireworks, and magical dazzle.

"It's a big project," Poindexter says with his usual cheer, "so I'm not sure what my stomach is going to feel like right before I open."

Wicked, we hope.

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