;
Director Patrick A'Hearn's production includes a stage that extends fully to the first audience tier. (Photos courtesy of Riverside Center for the Performing Arts)

Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Riverside for a family-friendly classic

by | Jun 8, 2024 | ALLFFP, Arts and Entertainment, Events

Anyone who has seen the classic 1939 film “The Wizard Of Oz” starring Judy Garland can recall the magic that it brought to the screen. Given that level of adoration, it was an ambitious move by director and Riverside Center For the Performing Arts CEO Patrick A’Hearn to bring that story to life.

Even bolder, A’Hearn decided to extend the stage into the first audience tier with a spiral platform that changes from a farm in Kansas to the mythical land of Oz and, of course, the yellow brick road. 

“When I was collaborating with the set designer and talking about ideas I said to him, ‘I’d like the show to come right out off the apron of the stage and into the audience,’” A’Hearn said. “I wanted to give the audience a wow factor. I think we’ve certainly created that in the way the set comes off the stage in that big spiral. People today like eye candy.”

Along with the unique stage, other artistic choices help to move the action. Some images and videos are projected on a screen behind the stage. During the cyclone scene, a fence and a doll house are carried across the set to simulate the turbulence.

Kansas native Rebecca Carroll stars as Dorothy.

This is also accompanied by flourishes of sound effects engineered by Cheyenne Tenda and music from an eight-piece orchestra conducted by Carson Eubank with musical direction by David Landrum. The movement of the storm is also effectively conveyed by dancers with flags that give the feel of wind and motion. 

“A lot of that was an idea between myself and our choreographer Stephanie Wood,” A’Hearn said. “I wanted it to be a creative experience. It started out with pieces of fabric that they were holding and then, when we were in rehearsals, Stephanie said, ‘I think it would be great if we could put them on flagpoles and move it that way’. And what a difference that made.”

Rebecca Carroll gives a stellar performance as Dorothy. Carroll previously appeared at Riverside as Peggy Sawyer in last summer’s production of “42nd Street.” Coincidentally, she is a Kansas native. 

I’m from Lenexa, Kansas which is a suburb of Kansas City,” she said. “It’s a huge honor to represent the state and be a part of this show that is so classic. I’ve grown up watching it since I was little and my family are all huge Wizard Of Oz fans and Judy Garland fans. It’s a lot of pressure because everyone knows the movie.

“Everyone has a vision of the show so it’s fun to make it our own and put our own twist on it; not try to be a copy of anybody else but just be our own version. There’s iconic lines and iconic bits that just have to happen. We’re trying to make sure we preserve all of that.”

According to A’Hearn, casting Carroll was natural after her equally compelling performance in “42nd Street.” Carroll makes her home in New York but travels to regional theaters across the country. While performing last summer, A’Hearn invited her audition for The Wizard Of Oz. 

I said, ‘Wow she’d make a great Dorothy,” A’Hearn said. “So before she left when she was here last summer we scheduled a time with Carson and I for her to come in and read and sing. It was a done deal; I didn’t have to look any further. The way she sings ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ is absolutely beautiful. She gives it some power, she gives it a beautiful lilt, and it’s well acted.”

The rest of the cast is equally strong.

Larry Toyter has a neat vocal trick that makes his Scarecrow sound like a loveable flaky character with the lanky moves to go along with it. Ariel Messeca plays the Tin Man with humor and charm. The scene where he regains his movement after being oiled is hilarious.

Jordan B. Stockdale gets the over-the-top part of the Cowardly Lion just right with some sly references to “The Lion King” and even Elvis. Kathy Halenda plays the dual roles of Miss Almira Gulch and the Wicked Witch Of The West with evil verve. Robert Biedermann has a nutty professor vibe for the Wizard and Professor Chester Marvel. Sheri Hayden plays the sugary sweet Glinda — The Good Witch Of the North. Andrea Kahane is the matronly Aunt Em and Ian Lane plays the dual role of Uncle Henry and the Emerald City Guard. 

A potential challenge in staging The Wizard Of Oz is casting the Muchkins. A’Hearn auditioned over 100 children to play the 10 roles seen on stage. He was surprised by the level of talent he was able to find. The roles have limited lines but require dancing and singing ability.

Also, the children are playing adult characters. 

“I explained to them that the Muchkins were little people, a lot of them were adults,” said A’Hearn. “I told them to pretend you’re your mom or your dad and pretend like when you do dress up; come up with a character. I had them each pick a name for their Munchkin so they each had a name for their character.

“They really took it on beautifully and their voices are all strong. That’s what blows me away when they sing ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead,’ the power that they have in their voices and the color in their voices. They’ve just been great.”

A’Hearn sees The Wizard Of Oz as part of Riverside’s role as a charity non-profit to provide the community with a production theatergoers of all ages can enjoy. 

“I thought we all need a little nostalgia today and it’s a classic, and it’s all about home and where the heart is,” he said. “So I thought, what better way to celebrate family than do The Wizard Of Oz?”

IF YOU GO

“The Wizard Of Oz,” Riverside Center for the Performing Arts,95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg

Runs until July 14. Tickets are $55-$82

Subscribe To Daily News Updates

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news from The Free Press

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This