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The Wizard of Oz - Staging the production

July 23, 1997

The Wizard of Oz

Staging the production

By KATE COLEMAN

Staff Writer

When the curtain opens on Escapade Theatre Company's production of "The Wizard of Oz" this weekend, it won't matter if skies "somewhere over the rainbow" are blue or not.

The summer youth theater presentation will be on the stage of The Maryland Theatre for four performances.

The company has presented musicals outdoors at Doub's Woods Park the past few summers. Although there are many good things about performing in the park, worrying about the weather, bathrooms and bugs will not be missed. William E. Morris, Escapade's artistic director, felt in previous years that he had to guard equipment and sets from theft and vandalism.

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"I'm very excited that I don't have to sleep in a pup tent at Doub's Woods for two weeks," he said.

The Doub's Woods audience had grown to about 7,000 for last year's free performances of "Peter Pan." Morris says he hopes some of those Tri-State area spectators will come to see "The Wizard of Oz" even though they will have to pay for tickets.

So much more can be done with sets and lighting at The Maryland Theatre, said Morris, who is staging and directing the musical. A 28-foot diameter revolving stage was built and transported from Musselman High School in Bunker Hill, W.Va.

Morris won't reveal how the tornado will be created, but he said there will flying monkeys, a flying witch, flying farmhands and flying telephone poles. There will be explosions, and yes, Oz fans, the wicked witch will melt.

The first three rows of seats at the theater will be transformed into a yellow brick road. The 16-piece Washington County Summer Youth Orchestra, conducted by Deborah H. Stotelmyer, will play from the box seats at the side of the stage.

Pulling together such a large-scale spectacle has taken brains, heart and more than a little courage. Not least among the challenges is coordinating a cast and crew of nearly 100 people, many of them children, and one dog. The terrier named Gidget, originally cast in the canine role, has been replaced by a lighter, smaller Toto.

Morris and musical director Susan Rowe have kept in touch with the 51 families who are involved in the production through a weekly newsletter dubbed "The Twister."

Actors range from kindergarteners to 40-somethings. Some of the children have as many as four or five costume changes, playing multiple roles, including Munchkins, Poppies, Snowflakes, Monkeys, Crows and Trees.

The rehearsal schedule has been demanding - four or five evenings a week since May 20. It's hard work, but fun, and Morris believes the children in the cast have learned a lot from the more-experienced actors in the lead roles.

"The kids watch in awe," he said.

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