The delightful musical fantasy about bursting through barriers to realize one’s true self and team achievement involves 39 area youths. They ignite the Flat Rock Playhouse new season, in its auxiliary Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown at 125 S. Main St. in Hendersonville.
Showtimes are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, this coming weekend and ending March 29. Box Office Manager Daniel Williams said the first weekend sold out, and few tickets remain for the next weekend. The show is an hour and a half, including intermission.
The stage adaptation reflects the heralded The Wizard of Oz 1939 MGM film, more than L. Frank Baum’s novel, due to its greater familiarity over generations, director Dave Hart said. “We honor the nostalgic MGM classic. Almost all (script) words and songs are the same.” Key character or plot-driving lines are retained. Pivotal action is retained, often with an edge but less menacing than the movie’s witchy scenes.
There are innovative visual twists, starting with the dancer-swirling twister. “This is a little different interpretation” visually with invigorating close-up “intimate” three-quarters (horseshoe-shaped) stage viewing, he said. “The audience feels very much involved in the show. It’s amazing.” Hart spoke to The Tribune between acts Saturday afternoon.
“I have cherished this classic story, and fell in love with it over and over again,” Hart stated. “I want to bring all the joy, magic and meaning the movie held for me. It’s a journey about friendship, and overcoming the obstacles in your life to realize the love that surrounds you.”
The film debuted on television Nov. 3, 1956 in the Ford Star Jubilee series, and has been on regularly since 1959. It aired mostly on Easter, on CBS. The play marks the holiday tradition, ahead of Easter which is April 4.
Proceeds benefit YouTheatre education. Such shows also groom future stage actors, technicians and patrons, by propelling them to “fall in love with theater,” Hart said. He has been YouTheatre’s director of youth productions since 2008. Hart taught two classes, split by age, in conjunction with Oz.
Otherwise, YouTheatre was on cost-saving winter “hiatus,” Hart said. He lauded Artistic Director Lisa K. Bryant’s evolving revamping of curriculum, for spring and summer.
Hart’s assistant director, Christian Carmean, plays the chatty, stumbling Scarecrow best known for singing “If I Only Had a Brain.” Carmean, a North Henderson alumnus and 6-foot-2 post player, plays basketball for Brevard College. At 21, he is the show’s eldest actor. Actors as young as six are tiny Munchkins, in the Lullaby League or Lollipop Guild.
The other principle actors are teens from three counties, skipping along the Yellow Brick Road as “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” Hannah Kepple transforms the brick road from yellow to golden as Dorothy Gale of Kansas, in her FRP debut. She sparkles acting, dancing, and singing the stirring inspirational Oscar winner “Over the Rainbow.” The role and song launched Judy Garland’s singing-acting career — as voraciously as twister gales spun Miss Gale to Oz. Kepple, 14, is a Christian school eighth-grader in Asheville. She slightly resembles Garland but has more youthful innocence, to go with mature voice and poise.
The heartless, rusty Tin Man (Samuel Hooper) and whimpering Cowardly Lion (Jackson Pelz) are both in Brevard High. Pelz reflects the daffy voice and hyper mannerisms of Robin Lord Taylor, the Penguin on TV’s “Gotham.” Hooper and Carmean also shine with noble innocence, and in physical comedy.
The quartet clicks, from “We’re Off to See the Wizard” onward. They skip four wide a la the movie, until the newest friend (to highlight him) and Dorothy go ahead to cross the narrow downstage bridge. They join Dorothy’s quest, to convince the wizard to help her return home. The deceptive wizard sets the quartet on a scavenger hunt, to bring him the witch’s broom.
In the local Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West is from East — East Henderson’s cackling Hannah Daniels. She is superb as Dorothy’s foil, with strong voice and movement. She wants Dorothy dead to get back magical ruby slippers of her sister the East witch, whom Dorothy’s twister-landing farmhouse flattened. But the witch’s evil ambition ultimately melts away. Her sidekick is Riley Hewitt as Nikko, hunched chief flying monkey. Chris Saucedo leads villainous Winkie guards.
Claire Griffin then Annabelle Cram portray angelic Glinda, the Good Witch of the North who tips Dorothy how to fulfill her homesick dream.
Reese Giles carries off bravado of Prof. Marvel/Wizard of Oz. “I’m a very good man; I’m a very bad wizard,” he muses after Dorothy chastises his phoniness and ego. But the mortal wizard makes amends, as a motivational speaker. He presents the Scarecrow with a brainy certificate, and helps the Lion gain courage. He spurs the Tinman to realize his kindness makes him beloved, and he has a heart since it feels broken. The balloonist wizard offers Dorothy a ride. She misses it, to retrieve Toto. But the odyssey leaves her more assertive, resourceful and grateful.
Others include Samantha Kane as Auntie Em, Frank Davis as Uncle Henry, Munchkin Mayor Andrew Starr, and James Hargis as the Oz Doorman. Sixteen jovial Munchkins are colorfully clad. As Toto, puppy Maybe Ruth stays calm when cradled and dashes off on cue to flee the witch.
Dance motion, swirling sound and mood lighting blend to spark transitional scenes of the tornado, apple trees, sleep-inducing poppies and peppy snow flakes in the Merry Old Land of Oz. Actors progress downstage in act one, then upstage toward the Emerald City.
The choreographer is Kylee Odom, helped by Emily Holbert. Musical direction is by Alex Shields, assisted by Sofia Mercado. The set designer is Chris Mueller. C.J. Barnwell does lights. Also critical are production manager Adam Goodrum, and stage manager Betsy Tankersley. Park Ridge Health is executive producer. Dr. Joe Farrar provided child goody bags, at matinees.
The cast performed for local schools Thursday. Two dozen youths and many dogs were in the Toto Trot costume parade downtown Saturday, ahead of pet adoptions. An ongoing scavenger Munchkin Hunt concludes “Ozapalooza” March 29.
The Flat Rock main box office is at YouTheatre at 1855 Little River Road, down from the corner playhouse, during Lowndes House repairs. Playhouse Downtown also has a box office. Wizard of Oz tickets cost $18 per adult or $10 per student. They can be purchased at either box office, or via phone (693-0731) or www.flatrockplayhouse.org.