‘There’s no place like’ the Old Opera House Dozens of young people add heart – and song – to ‘Wizard of Oz’

Almost everyone knows the story of “The Wizard of Oz.” Published as a children’s novel in 1900, the story became a Technicolor hit in 1939 and then spent decades as a much-anticipated yearly TV event and then a DVD staple.

But even for those who have watched L. Frank Baum’s tale dozens of times, this weekend brings the chance to see “Oz” in a whole new way.

The Old Opera House’s musical version features the familiar favorites: Dorothy (Shannen Banzhoff) and Toto, Tin Man (August Burzio), Scarecrow (Ed Conn) and Cowardly Lion (Paul Cabell), all of whom hope to find happiness with the help of the Wizard (Charlie Perkins).

But thanks to music from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the OOH summer youth production at the historic George Street theater transforms “Oz” into something more.

“This is a classic that came out when most adults who will come to see this were kids, but this is different,” Burzio said. “There’s a lot of stuff in the musical that wasn’t in the movie.”

There are the songs everyone knows, including “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” as well as new tunes that wow, such as “Red Shoes Blues,” sung by the Wicked Witch of the West (Irina Price), and the Wizard’s “You Went to See the Wizard.”

Besides being an entertaining show, “Oz” Director Steven Brewer, artistic director for the Old Opera House, said he wanted to take a different approach this summer. Instead of children’s theater presented either for youth or staged solely by youth, Brewer opted to blend the two styles.

Thirty students 18 and younger have roles in “Wizard of Oz,” giving them the chance to show off their talents alongside seasoned veterans of the stage.

“Some of the kids in the show have had the opportunity to be in adult productions like ‘Scrooge’ and ‘Shrek,’ but most of them haven’t,” explains Glenn Frail, who plays Uncle Henry. “This gives them the opportunity to share the stage with adults and learn from them.”

Most of the children under 13 and younger landed roles as Munchkins. Just as in the movie when Dorothy and Toto land in Munchkinland, they are greeted by an entire city of little people.

“It’s been a really good experience,” said Ryan George, 9, a member of the Lollipop Guild.

Explains 7-year-old Caroline Brewer, who plays a Munchkin teacher: “Watching the adults makes us realize we should keep practicing and practicing and practicing. The adults have to practice too, not just the kids.”

“These kids are adorable,” Cabell said. “The best part of the show are the Munchkins.”

The OOH’s latest production debuts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Three more performances are planned: Friday and Saturday nights and then a Sunday matinee finale.

Patrons may purchase tickets at the door one hour prior to show time or reserve seats by calling the OOH box office at 304-725-4420.


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