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Backstage Wizardry

03/04/2014 09:25AM ● Published by Jon Lewis

By Jon Lewis
Photo courtesy of Michael Burke Photography

The Wizard of Oz Gets Technical at the Cascade Theatre

The Cascade Theatre’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” is such a huge undertaking that even the Wicked Witch of the West is excited.

Like others in the 37-member cast, Kathryn Kirk is both thrilled and humbled to be a part of the troupe tasked with bringing the beloved American classic to the stage. Mostly, though, she’s eager to see how audiences will react to some razzle-dazzle that hasn’t been seen at the Cascade before.  

“I think people will be surprised that we can pull off so many special effects in a live show,” says Kirk, the Redding actress who will don the black robe and direct her flying monkeys to apprehend young Dorothy.

The technical wizardry is just one of many reasons the cast and crew are excited. This production of “The Wizard of Oz” is linked to a pair of milestones: 2014 is the 75th anniversary of the epic film’s release and it’s the 10th anniversary of the opening of the restored Cascade Theatre. 

The very first event at the revamped downtown Redding icon? A screening of “The Wizard of Oz,” which was preceded by the on-stage performance of selected “Oz” scenes. Who sang the part of Dorothy? Jana Pulcini-Leard, who returns to the Cascade stage to reprise a role she’s cherished all her life.

“This has been a plan in the making for years,” Pulcini-Leard says. “We really wanted to focus on the sentimental connection, bring it full circle and do it again. Instead of showing the movie, we will do the show.”

To allow her time to focus on the role of Dorothy, Pulcini-Leard has taken off the director’s hat she’s worn for the last three “Cascade Christmas” shows as well as the Cascade’s productions of “Hairspray,” “Sound of Music” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” For “Oz,” she is serving as producer and handing off the directing responsibilities to Jessica Wiechman.

“We’ve really expanded our options for this,” Pulcini-Leard says. “We’re putting in more special effects than we’ve ever done. It’s really a collaborative effort, from the video presentations to the stage we’ve built. We didn’t want to chintz anything.”

Even the casting of Toto was a Broadway-worthy effort. A dozen dogs auditioned initially and a second audition finally yielded the winner: Ebby, a good-natured rescue dog who belongs to Bob and Diane Madgic of Anderson.

“Oh my gosh, she’s super sweet and very well trained,” Pulcini-Leard says. As a certified Canine Good Citizen and a therapy dog, Ebby is no stranger to performing and pleasing others, Bob Madgic says. Dorothy and Toto began bonding in January and the early reviews were good. 

The key? “She’s very motivated by treats. As soon as Jana starts dishing out treats, Ebby comes running. That bond is being quickly established,” Bob Madgic says.

The chance to direct “Oz” is a treat in itself, says Wiechman, who admits to feeling a bit stressed at the daunting challenges posed by staging a show based on a movie that is beloved by millions.

Alleviating that stress is her trust in the theater folk she’s working with. “I have an amazing team and a lot of very talented actors. I’m working very closely with Jana as the producer, the vocal coaches and choreographers are amazing. I have a lot of help — I don’t feel like I’m doing this on my own.

“It’s very exciting to get the opportunity to direct a show here. It’s such a milestone and a classic piece, and the theatre lends itself to a beautiful stage for the Emerald City. I really want to create something that’s entertaining for the public,” Wiechman says.

Jefferson Thomas is doing his best to up the entertainment factor with a host of special effects wizardry, including a special treatment for the great and powerful Oz himself. The video projections and live-action animation will be a first for the Cascade, says Thomas, whose background includes work on Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Claire Low and her crew are working hard to make sure the Emerald City residents are appropriately outfitted. The challenge, she says, comes from ensuring the appearance of popular characters like the Wicked Witch of the West come close to the image people recall from multiple viewings of the movie. 

There’s also the matter of characters, like the witch, who is required to fly, and trees that talk and move. “You have to plan for that with the costume,” says Low, who adds that she’s working closely with makeup designer Mat McDonald. “It’s challenging to project a character. You almost have to overdo it. Even the Munchkins — they’re small, but they need to be seen as big. We’re creating an illusion.”

“We’re just pulling out all the stops at this point,” Low says. “It’s going to be a pretty fabulous show.” •

Dates and times:  7 pm March 28-29, April 3-5; 2 pm March 29-30, April 5-6;  Tickets $10-$25; visit the Cascade Theatre box office, call (530) 243-8877 or visit www.cascadetheatre.org

The Wizard of Oz at the Cascade Theatre

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