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Off to see the wizard

Tom Titus

“The Wizard of Oz” has been with us for more than a century,

although most moviegoers would point to the 1939 screen version as

the definitive version of the classic L. Frank Baum fantasy.

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The Laguna Playhouse’s Youth Theater has chosen this timeless

classic as its second production of the season, on stage this weekend

and playing through Dec. 22 under the direction of Joe Lauderdale,

longtime director of the playhouse’s Youth Theater.

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“Audiences should not come to the playhouse expecting to see the

film recreated on the stage,” Lauderdale cautioned. “The initial idea

was to move as far away from the film as possible and create a very

strange and abstract world with bizarre characterizations.

“Ultimately, the actors interpreted the characters in a more

traditional way, while the physical look of the costumes and sets

moved in a different direction,” he said.

The story dates back to 1900, when Baum published his children’s

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novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

With its imaginative and vivid illustrations, the book became an

instant hit and ultimately earned the honor of being the year’s

best-selling book. It also inspired Baum to write 13 more Oz books,

two of which were published after his death.

“In 1902, Baum adapted the book for the stage,” Lauderdale noted.

“When it reached Broadway, it was the most successful production of

its time. The show toured for nine years following its Broadway run.

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“Additional stage versions followed, as well as 15 film versions written or produced by Baum and his son,” he said.

All these were prior to the most famous movie adaptation, in 1939,

when Judy Garland and friends traveled down the yellow brick road.

This has been the inspiration for the plethora of stage versions in

the last six decades.

“Some of the costumes [for the Laguna show] were inspired by the

original book illustrations, especially for the Munchkins and the

lion,” Lauderdale said. “Glinda, the Wicked Witch and Dorothy will

look completely different -- the witch will not be dressed in black.”

The set design for Laguna’s production was based on circles -- the

inspiration being the tornado that sweeps Dorothy and Toto (who’ll be

played in Laguna by a real dog) to Munchkin Land.

A dance ensemble will also help create the environment with the

tornado and poppies, in addition to dancing in some of the larger

musical numbers.

“‘The Wizard of Oz’ is the largest, most expensive production we

have ever produced in the Youth Theater,” Lauderdale declared. “There

are 42 cast members, both children and adults, a real live dog, a

trap elevator for the witch and a large set with tracking scenic

pieces.

“Working on the show has definitely been a challenge, but it has

also been a great pleasure,” he added. “The playhouse staff has

worked long and hard and the talented cast has put in many exhausting

hours to make the show a reality.”

* TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.


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