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In St. Jacobs, they’re off to see the Wizard

Let’s say you’re Dorothy Gale. You’ve spent your entire life on your Auntie Em’s modest farm. You’ve never ventured outside of Kansas – or, indeed, much further than Professor Marvel’s travelling wagon a short distance down the road. The Technicolor Land of Oz, then, might be such a shock to your sensibilities that your immediate instinct would be to get back home as soon as possible.

But then let’s say you wake up a few weeks later in your bed in Kansas. You’ve seen munchkins, flying monkeys, an emerald city, and several horses of different colours. You’ve made three friends who are closer to you than anyone at the farm, and your victory over the Wicked Witch has made you the toast of Oz. After an adventure like that, why on earth would you tell Auntie Em, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard”? Doesn’t this contradict everything we’ve seen before?

The Tin Man (Billy Whitmore), the Scarecrow (Brad Hale), Dorothy (Christina Rorai-McNeill), and the Cowardly Lion (Jessica Wormland) have a feeling they aren’t in Kansas anymore. They’re at St. Jacobs PS November 26-27.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
The Tin Man (Billy Whitmore), the Scarecrow (Brad Hale), Dorothy (Christina Rorai-McNeill), and the Cowardly Lion (Jessica Wormland) have a feeling they aren’t in Kansas anymore. They’re at St. Jacobs PS November 26-27. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
Lisa Shuh, co-director of St. Jacobs PS’s upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz, offers as sensible an answer as we’re likely to get.

“But she was disappointed in Oz by people who didn’t have integrity,” Shuh explains, perhaps referencing a certain alleged wizard who warned his visitors to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. “People weren’t who they said they were.”

She continues, “The three characters and Dorothy found out that friendship solved all of their problems anyway.” A pause. “There’s my philosophical and deep answer for today.”

Indeed, there are many deep philosophical issues at play in this classic work, which, since first evoked by author L. Frank Baum in 1900 and immortalized by Judy Garland and co. in 1939 have continued to make Oz one of the most durable brands in modern media. Perhaps not even Baum himself could declare with certainty if Dorothy made the right decision, so here’s an easier question for Lisa Shuh: who is your favourite character?

“They’re all so lovable…” says Shuh. Dorothy didn’t have any problem picking favourites when she told Scarecrow she’d miss him most of all, so an evasive answer won’t cut it.

“I think I probably like the Lion, and our Lion [Jessica Wormland] has really grown in her presentation. So probably right now that’s my favourite, but who knows? Our Scarecrow [Brad Hale] makes us cry because he sings so beautifully, and the Tin Man [Billy Whitmore] is just hilarious. It’s hard to say.”

Indeed, Shuh has enjoyed working with her whole cast, from Christina Rorai-McNeill as Dorothy to Miranda Elliott as Glinda, Natalie Erwin as the Witch, Matt Dunn as Uncle Henry, Johnny Deganis as the Wizard, right down to the array of munchkins, guards, monkeys, ornery trees, and jitterbugs that make up Oz’s diverse population.

“It’s been a blast,” says Shuh. “When you’ve got Grades 6,7, 8, you think you know their potentially, but usually they absolutely exceed that as the weeks and months go by.”

She adds, “We’re tired because we’re only a week from opening night. We’ve done a lot of early morning rehearsals. But the kids have been fantastic; the staff and parents have been beyond supportive. That makes it easy.”

The St. Jacobs PS production will draw heavily on the 1939 movie, which, with a recent 3D re-release and a high-profile prequel (Oz the Great and Powerful), remains one of the only 75-year-old movie that seemingly every kid has seen. What makes Oz and its inhabitants so durable in the popular imagination?

“I think the music has a real appeal,” says Shuh. “It’s bright, it’s fun, it’s singable, it sticks in your head. All of the costuming and the colour appeals to any age, and the characters.

“There are three of us who are on the direction team [including Kim Freeman and Nancy Stayzer], and we all agreed that we particularly liked the music of The Wizard of Oz. It’s the 75th anniversary of the release of the movie, and it was just an all-time favourite of ours.”

The Wizard of Oz runs at St. Jacobs PS (72 Queensway Dr.) November 26-27 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students/seniors. For more information on purchasing tickets, call 519-664-2272.

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