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    The Wizard of Oz
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    As part of its 100th anniversary celebration season, CenterStage is kicking off 2015 with style, by reclaiming a beloved classic: The Wizard of Oz. For the new year, somewhere over the rainbow, musical theatre dreams are coming true. Visionary director John Leffert kindly took time to meet with me so the audience could get a special behind-the-scenes look into the making of a twister-turned-Technicolor fantasy, a homecoming tale: Dorothy edition, and trees and poppies stamped with superbly bold John Leffert reinvention. 

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    Louisville.com:  The Wizard of Oz is a classic. What is the unique appeal that a theatrical production offers that people can’t find in the movie that they all know and love?

    John Leffert:  Well, the play does have some changes. Every character in Kansas doubles in Oz. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry don’t double in the movie. Aunt Em is played by Glinda… and Uncle Henry is played by the guard in Emerald City… So that’s something unique and interesting.

    I think whenever you see something live, it has a much more personal connection than a movie. It lets you have a little more personal experience with the actors, I think- seeing the actors at the end of the show. Especially for young, young people, it’s going to be pretty magical.

    …A lot of the things they’re going to see are from the film, because that’s what we all fell in love with and that’s what we all are a part of… It’s just kind of an interesting, different way to tell it.

    Lou.com: That must be what first drew you to the theatre- the more personal connection.

    JL:  It is. It’s the telling of a story and it’s the way that theatre can tell a story that no other genre can tell a story. I think The Wizard of Oz is the same way in that capacity.

    Lou.com:  I read that there are going to be 46 children, I believe, in the cast?

    JL:  There are 46 children cast. On each night, there will be 23. 72 in the whole show. So that includes the adults and everything. There are a group of young adults that will be in Munchkinland every night and then 23 little ones- they’ll be double cast.

    Lou.com:  Which role was the most challenging to cast?

    JL:  You know, they all are such unique characters. Like I said earlier, everyone is used to the film. Those characters are so iconic, from Ray Bolger to Judy Garland to Jack Haley to Bert Lahr. And so it’s just finding actors that not only give a nod to those characters, but I think bring their own uniqueness and personal connection to those characters as well. And of course Dorothy you know is the role that everyone is waiting to see. And I think following in Judy Garland’s footsteps is extremely difficult.

    We are very lucky. The young lady that is playing [Dorothy] actually played it in our first production ten years ago. We were doing Sweeney Todd and she came to the show. She said, “Oh, I’d love to get back in.” I said, “You know, it’s funny. We’re having callbacks for Wizard of Oz on Sunday. Would you like to come?” And then she came to callbacks and was cast again. So, it’s really interesting… to see what she can bring to the role ten years later… I think Dorothy is one of the more challenging [roles].

    Lou.com:  And since you said she is reprising the role, what do you think this Dorothy has learned to incorporate in her second time around playing this character?

    JL:  She was very young, probably 18, when she did [the role]. She’s now probably 28. She’s been in the world. She’s experienced what Dorothy longed for, but then ended up coming back home… So the same lessons that Dorothy learned, I’m sure she’s learned.

    Lou.com:  She’s kind of undergone her own journey.

    JL:  Right, she’s undergone a journey of the past. …She’s come back home to this area as well after being in Chicago for an extended period of time. I think you always bring whatever you’ve learned over your journeys, like Dorothy, back home with you.

    Lou.com:  That’s what makes for great actors and actresses.

    JL:  Well, that’s what you know you have to do. You only have your personal experiences to call on. And whatever those may be, whatever role you’re doing, you find something unique or something in you that you’ve experienced to draw on to play that role. So I’m sure she’s doing that as well.

    Lou.com:  And what steps did you take to bring your vision for the set to life?

    JL:  Well, this is the third time I’ve done [The Wizard of Oz], so every time has been very different. I think in general I’ve been simplifying… Though many things are going to be similar, many things are going to be different.

    Munchkinland will have a different set. We are still going to do the sepia tone to color. We still do that on stage. The whole set is covered in brown cover, and then during the twister, it goes away to a Technicolor Munchkinland. I’m designing costumes as well this time, so while many of the costumes we had in stock from past shows, I’m adding to it a different take on the trees. That’s another thing that’s different about the movie than that. Live actors play the apple trees. They play the crows with the scarecrows. So there are characters you won’t have seen in the movie that they’ve added.

    Lou.com:  So it really must make the set feel like it’s alive too.

    JL:  Right. Which is another thing I’m looking to do. I’m going to look to bring the set out into the audience. There’ll be pieces you have in the theatre that will depict Munchkinland. The Yellow Brick Road will come off the stage on a ramp and go all the way to the entrance of the theatre. The actors go in and out through the audience several times. Every character does. Winkies, Witch, Dorothy, the friends- they all go in and out of the auditorium through different entrances. So I think, you know, again, it’s just kind of bringing that story to life and close to you and continuing to make it magical. Everything in the play is magic in Oz. You want to make it as bright and colorful and interesting-

    Lou.com:  -and Technicolor world as possible.

    JL:  Exactly. But also, putting your own spin on it as well. You know, those trees aren’t going to be the crotchety old trees, for example…. Ladies sing those roles in their brown evening gowns with big tree headpieces. Just a fantastic kind of world. The poppies aren’t going to be dressed as flowers. They’re in red dresses.

    The wig designer Mikhail Schulz (who also designed hair and make up for CenterStage’s most recent acclaimed production of Sweeney Todd) is going to do the hair, so it creates the petals, the red hair. You’ll see in Emerald City, everyone’s going to be in bright wigs. Everyone’s going to be in Munchkinland in bright wigs. So it’s just really trying to create that magical world that is Oz.

    Lou.com:  So even the costumes are going to go from sepia-toned to Technicolor.

    JL:  Oh absolutely. Everything. Even the gingham dress goes from sepia to [Technicolor]- in the middle of the twister.

    Lou.com:  Is there one costume piece that you are excited about in particular? I know the trees sound great.

    JL:  Well, some of the new stuff I’m doing, with the poppies and the trees… and we’ve got new Winkie costumes this time. The friends have great costumes already, so we’re just sticking to [those]- they’re pretty tried and true. Butch Seger designed the original production. We are having our Tin Man reworked. He’s kind of lived his life after ten years, so we’re kind of revamping him a bit.

    Everyone just expects to see those iconic characters, and I’m not even a fan of seeing a Wizard of Oz where people try and recreate the wheel. People came to see Glinda a certain way and they came to see The Wicked Witch a certain way. They’re not going to be disappointed.

    Lou.com:  I also read about The Tea Party.

    JL:  Yes, The Tea Party. We do a tea with Dorothy and friends. Kids will come and they do a Wizard of Oz craft with one of the friends, and then they’ll tour the stage with Dorothy, get to walk in Munchkinland, and the set, and then have their pictures taken, and come back and have a tea party with the characters.

    Lou.com:  And is it your first time doing The Tea Party?

    JL:  We’ve done it every time, and it’s been incredibly successful. I just think it’s great. We’ll also have a gift shop with a lot of fun Wizard of Oz memorabilia for them to take home and play with and use their own imagination…

    Lou.com:  Taking the magic of theatre home.

    JL:  Absolutely. Yeah, I remember doing that as a kid. Going to things, take a souvenir… I remember playing Wizard of Oz as a kid too.  

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    The Wizard of Oz, sponsored by Physician's Center for Beauty, opens this Thursday, January 8th, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. at CenterStage at the Jewish Community Center. Take the Yellow Brick Road back to your childhood, and bring your families to experience the magic!

    Additional Show Times:

    Saturday, January 10 at 7:30 pm
    *Sunday, January 11 at 2:00pm*
    Monday, January 12 at 7:30pm
    Thursday, January 15 at 7:30pm
    Saturday, January 17 at 7:30pm
    *Sunday, January 18 at 2:00pm*
    Tuesday, January 20 at 7:30pm
    Thursday, January 22 at 7:30pm
    Saturday, January 24 at 7:30pm
    *Sunday, January 25 at 2:00pm*

    * Tea with Dorothy & Friends- 12:00-1:00 pm *
    Bring a camera and capture all the wonder on film, as your child interacts with the characters of The Wizard of Oz!

    TEA PARTY ONLY: $16
    TEA PARTY & SHOW PACKAGE: $26
    (Includes one ticket to matinee performance. Only children will need a ticket for this event.)

    Tickets:
    Children (10 and under): $16
    Adults: $20
    Group rates (20 or more) available by request, contact Anne Ensign at 238-2773.

    You can also order tickets by calling 502-238-2709,  or by clicking here.
    There is a small convenience fee for online ordering. If the performance you want to purchase tickets for does not appear in the list, please call the box office at 502-459-0660.

    Get your tickets quickly! Shows for Saturday, January 10, and Sunday, January 11 have already sold out!

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    Visit CenterStageJCC.org for more information about becoming a season subscriber! CenterStage is celebrating its 100th season of shows- and is a Louisville treasure.

    Cover Photo: Courtesy of CenterStage's facebook page; Second Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock/Michele Paccione; Third Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock/David Andrew Larsen

    Julie Lamb's picture

    About Julie Lamb

    Curly-haired owner of one massive sweet tooth, believer of Harry Potter and Disney fairytales, and a fierce lover of all things literary and the arts.

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