Off to the see the ‘Wizard’

Nearing the end of its first year in operation, Upstage Theatre mounts a production of the beloved musical “The Wizard of Oz” at Edmond’s Mitch Park. With gates open at 7 p.m. each night, audiences are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets and coolers, as well as enjoy food from onsite vendors.

Upstage is the passion project of University of Central Oklahoma grads Brett and Jenny Rottmayer, who serve as executive and artistic directors, respectively.

“When we met, we always talked about how we were going to open a theater in Edmond where we could teach and put on productions,” Jenny Rottmayer said. “After a few years of waiting on me to graduate, we finally went for it.”

The production of “Oz” is directed by Collin Andrulonis, and features Michelle Owens as Dorothy, Kris Grimes as the Wicked Witch, and Bill Perry as the Cowardly Lion, with music direction by Paula Fox. More than half of the 40-member cast are children.

“We love doing productions with kids,” Rottmayer said. “They are so open to exploring new things, so if we ask them to try a certain dance move or say a line with a certain emotion, they do it without flinching.”

She said since this production is based on the 1939 film classic, it features all the songs audiences know and love, plus additional verses and an entire new tune, “The Jitterbug,” which was cut from the movie. Because of the audience’s strong connection to the film, Andrulonis has tried to strike a balance between paying tribute to it and doing something original.

“The film is so iconic and special to people, it would be a disservice to ignore it,” he said. “Audiences come expecting certain things — Dorothy’s blue-and-white dress, a green Wicked Witch — but my challenge was to honor the movie, but to infuse the story with new life to make it our own. Audiences will find all of the aspects they loved from the film, but also be charmed by this fresh retelling.”

Another area that embodies his approach is in the characters’ portrayals.

“The cast and I have had many discussions about the characters as we have explored new ways to portray them. The characters are funny, charming and original, all the while paying tribute to the actors who originated the roles,” he said.

Andrulonis praised the work of his crew, particularly the scenic design, which he deemed “brilliant! It provides a great canvas upon which the story unfolds, and it is all here: the Yellow Brick Road, the cyclone and, of course, the terrifying Wizard of Oz!” He believes “Oz” has endured because its themes are so timeless.

“Everyone can relate to Dorothy, wishing for bigger and better things,” he said, “but then realizing what’s really important is family, friends and love.”