The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 26, 2013

'Wizard of Oz' production features flying actors, live orchestra

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Oklahoma has a musical bearing its name, and Missouri can claim "Big River," a stage adaptation of Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn."

But "The Wizard of Oz" is on another level of importance, and not only to Kansans. Because of the beloved 1939 film, director Jason Huffman said it means a lot to get the important parts right.

"I put some extra pressure on the actors just to learn their lines," Huffman said. "People expect them and know them. It's not like an unknown show where you can take a lot of liberties. The Wicked Witch has to say, ÔI'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too.'"

The Pittsburg Community Theatre production of "The Wizard of Oz," which began Thursday, features a cast and crew of more than 100, including a live 16-piece orchestra that plays songs both familiar and unheard, Huffman said. One of those numbers, "Jitterbug," was cut from the original film.

And his cast, including Hanna Wade as Dorothy, is up for the task, he said. Many of the main roles are cast by actors who are also members of Midwest Regional Ballet.

"That made her perfect for the role," Huffman said. "She's doing ÔJitterbug,' a difficult song and dance. To have the stamina to do that is difficult, but she does it like a trooper."

Other cast members include Sage Brown as Scarecrow, Jared Mazurek as the Tin Woodsman, Seth Harley as the Cowardly Lion, Susie Lundy as the Wicked Witch and Bear, an actual dog playing Toto.

Kaye Lewis, director of the ballet, designed the choreography. Megan Gabeheart is the musical director.

A significant part of the crew is dedicated to helping some of the actors get airborne. ZFX Flying, based out of Louisville, Ky., was hired to design special rigs that would help the witch's flying monkeys actually fly.

Using the aerial rigs has taken a lot of training. Part of the crew is set aside just to ensure the safety and operation of the gear, Huffman said.

From the flying to the live orchestra, it's all part of making sure a big show plays big, Huffman said. And Huffman was happy to have people from all over the region involved in a story about the girl from Kansas.

"The actors are not just from Pittsburg," Huffman said. "We have people from Galena, Riverton, Joplin, Carthage and all over. That's what makes this a great draw."

 

Want to go?

Showtimes for "The Wizard of Oz" are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at Memorial Auditorium. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, $5 for balcony. Details: 920-231-7827, www.memorialauditorium.org.

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