Claire Nowak

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

The Skylight’s Wizard of Oz is a show for the child in all of us.

By - Nov 19th, 2014 01:50 pm
The Wizard of Oz.

The Wizard of Oz.

When Skylight Music Theatre asked Leslie Dunner to be music director for The Wizard of Oz, he said yes immediately. The 1939 film is one of his favorites — and one of America’s as well. Dorothy, Toto, and the rest of their friends in Oz made it one of the most popular films of all time, with numerous adaptations for film and stage.

The Wizard of Oz gives you all of the hope possible that you can find a life, family, and friends,” Dunner says.

But such a well-known show has been reproduced and revisited hundreds of times. Dunner and stage director Linda Brovsky needed to make it unique to Skylight, “to try and make that as authentic as possible, but still within the confines of what we have as our resources.”

Their ultimate solution in presenting this childhood classic was to view it through the eyes of a child. The sets and costumes are designed to look like something out of a coloring book, with a simplicity that lets audiences use their imaginations to fill in the details. The costume designs from Kristy Leigh Hall are meant to resemble homemade stuffed toys. The munchkins, for instance, wear large, dress-like outfits that look like they were made from oven mitts and kitchen towels.

“If you can imagine growing up poor, you have just rags and things to use like random bits of materials that have been worn out,” Dunner says. “You sew them together, you put a mop-head on top of for the lion mane—that sort of image.”

Keeping to the theme requires childlike energy, which Dunner says the cast definitely doesn’t lack. Each cast member has of course seen the film and understands his/her role well enough to create a personal interpretation. That also helps assure this production isn’t merely a recreation of the movie or Broadway versions, but something fresh.

It’s a tight cast, says Dunner: “You don’t get a sense that anybody thinks they are the more important than somebody else, including the people who are not the title leads. The people who have the roles of Dorothy or Scarecrow or the Tin Tan or the Witch interact with the other people who are dancing and singing as munchkins. You cannot tell one from the other.”

Two cast members, however, do stand out: the dogs who take turns playing Toto, the canine companion of Dorothy (Susan Wiedmeyer). Hillie is a Cairn Terrier that looks like the dog from the movie, and Snowy is a West Highland Terrier that also works as a therapy dog. The dogs need to interact with the cast and follow cues in nearly every scene. Their lively personalities can make that a challenge.

“There’s a lot of people on stage,” Dunner notes. “There are a lot of special effects and a lot of sounds from the orchestra. That’s a lot for a dog to deal with.”

So, does the production team use treats to train the dogs? Sh, that’s apparently a trade secret.

Like every storybook tale, there are lessons to be learned. “Dorothy learns that her family really is the most important thing in her life. The lion learns that he has incredible courage inside of him though it’s not there at first sight,” Donner says.

And that may the most important lesson, the difference between a normal person and a hero. We all get scared, Donner notes, but the   hero can “overcome those feelings of fear in order to do the task at hand.” It’s a lesson that still endures, 75 years after the movie first premiered.

Opens 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21 at Skylight and runs through Jan. 4. Tickets range from $17-77 and are available online or by calling 414-291-7800.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised]

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised]

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised]

After debuting this show in 2001, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre is back, 13 years later, revising this already atypical Shakespearean production with a few added twists.

The original script by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield has three actors attempt a near-impossible feat: perform all of Shakespeare’s works in 90 minutes. MCT adapted the script for four actors, so Chris Klopatek, Rick Pendzich, Chase Stoeger, and Marcus Truschinski will play themselves acting out Shakespeare’s work rather than fictional characters.

The production is also modified to reflect the cast’s close relationship. All four met in UW-Whitewater’s theater program. This is the first time they have performed together since UWW’s production of Guys and Dolls. Their friendship makes rehearsals run all the more smoothly.

“It’s been really useful in rehearsals because we all know each other’s sense of humor,” Pendzich says. “Working with other people you might have to talk things out a lot more, what you’re planning to do.”

“You definitely see the camaraderie and ease when they’re working together,” director Ray Jivoff says. “They work to each other’s strengths and personalities.”

At Whitewater, the foursome also created their own rock band, “The Right Arms.” Jivoff went to one of the group’s parties in Stoeger’s basement, which inspired Jivoff and scenic designer Steve Barnes to set the show in a basement. Jivoff also incorporated their musical talents by adding a live band to the show. Whichever of the four is not performing runs upstage to underscore the current scene with original music.

The result is a raucous show with a lot of physical comedy, but Pendzich says the actors balance improvised humor with staying in control of each scene to give audience members just the right amount of insanity.

“If they have half as good a time as we’re having, I think they’ll walk away pretty happy,” he says.

Opens 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 and runs through Dec. 14 at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.Tickets range from $28-41 and are available online or by calling 414-291-7800.

Cudahy Caroler Christmas 2014

Stasch and his band of merry musicians are celebrating the season one last time in the final run of A Cudahy Caroler Christmas. This local holiday favorite by Anthony Wood features In Tandem Artistic Director Chris Flieller as Stasch, who tries to bring the Cudahy Carolers back together for one last concert after a five-year hiatus. This will be Flieller’s final appearance as the lead caroler. Join them in classic Christmas tunes with a local twist, like “We T’ree Guys from Cudahy Are” and “O, Bowling Night!”

Opens 7:30 p.m. Nov. 26 and runs through Jan. 4 at In Tandem Theatre. Tickets are $25 and are available online or by calling 414-271-1371.

Lysistrata at UWM

UW-Milwaukee’s next Mainstage Theatre production, “Lysistrata,” takes audiences back to ancient Greece. Directed by Michelle Lopez-Rios, this comedy by Aristophanes follows the titular character who convinces the women of Greece to deny their husbands and lovers sexual favors until they peacefully end the Peloponnesian War. If only conflicts were that solvable today. Sexual content may make the show inappropriate for young children.

Nov. 19 – Nov. 23 at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts, 2400 E. Kenwood Blvd. Tickets are $17 and are available online or by calling 414-229-4308.

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