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Local theaters celebrate wonderful world of Oz

BY ELLEN HARRIS | JULY 16, 2009 7:15 AM

The assembled cast and crew members listened intently to a lecture on costuming during Tuesday night’s rehearsal of The Wizard of Oz.

“If anyone so much as touches the Tin Man costume, there will be … consequences,” a young stagehand said.

Lounging in a seat off to the side, director Tom Milligan snapped a faux noose made of twine.
“Dire consequences,” he said, causing everyone to laugh.

To celebrate the classic MGM film’s 70th anniversary, Amana’s Old Creamery Theatre Company and the Englert Theatre collaborated to stage a one-weekend production of The Wizard of Oz. The show will open today at 7:30 p.m. on the Englert stage, 221 E. Washington St. Admission ranges in price from $15 to $25.

“It’s by far the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” Milligan said.

The 330-some costume pieces — all hand-made by Old Creamery costumer Marquetta Senters, with the exception of the rented Tin Man costume — are the main ingredient when it comes to recreating the film onstage.

“We kept the set simple,” Milligan said. “We want the color and the costumes to be the focus.”

While Old Creamery was responsible for the cast, the costumes, and the set pieces, the Englert has managed the front-of-house and ticket sales, as well as the technical aspects of sound and lighting.

“It’s been a great collaboration, even from the surrounding community,” Milligan said. “You know Leslie Nolte, from Nolte Academy of Dance? She did all our choreography.”

The 18-person ensemble, featuring 11 young children, dance across the stage as the tornado, Munchkins, poppies, snowflakes, Emerald City residents, Winkies, and flying monkeys.

Dressed in black spandex from head to toe, the ensemble took their positions on stage during the rehearsal, some holding brown window shutters.

“We used to call them ‘Debris People,’ ” said Deborah Kennedy, who plays the Wicked Witch of the West. “But now we just call out for the ‘Shutter People.’ It’s nicer.”

Kennedy is a seasoned stage veteran and Old Creamery regular. One of the nine leads in this production, she says the company is bringing the movie to life for the family audiences it hopes to attract this weekend.

“Everything is in black and white at the beginning,” she said. “The costumes, the set pieces for the most part. The bicycle I ride is just a little grayish-green.”

The cast makes the transition to Technicolor, and Dorothy (played by the clear-voiced Diana Upton-Hill) finds herself on the other side of the rainbow. Soon joined by her three famous partners-in-crime, Upton-Hill lets strategic yellow lighting guide her way down an imaginary brick road.

The story told is almost an exact replica of the film itself, a wonderful tribute to the 1939 groundbreaking picture. Kennedy, for example, mimics the evil cackle of the Wicked Witch, while Sean McCall — playing the Cowardly Lion — huffs and ruffs in imitation of his legendary, furry counterpart.

T.J. Besler, who plays the loose-limbed Scarecrow, noted that the musical has made its way into the hearts of so many.

“[The songs] are simple melodies,” he said. “You don’t need big, awesome voices to sing them, because the music is very character-driven. It’s about the story they’re telling.”

The story being told on Tuesday night, while the cast waited for their five-minute call, was rather a discussion of stage superstitions. Besler turned to Jeff Haffner — the Tin Man — and asked him whether the oft-forsworn “break a leg” was off-limits.

“Oh, it doesn’t bother me,” Haffner said, turning in his seat. “But you’ve gotta respect those superstitions. There are some people who take it very seriously.”

As the stage manager called for the actors’ attention, Haffner, Besler, and the rest of the cast vacated the chairs and headed backstage. Milligan, seated quietly to the side, the dreaded noose no longer in his hands, leaned back and smiled.

“This is gonna be a fun show,” he said. “It’s gonna be good.”


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