Stage version of 'Wizard of Oz' travels down the same, familiar road as the original film
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
"With something that is this well known, you have to be faithful to the characters."
"Well known" is an understatement when the actor talking is one playing the title character in The Wizard of Oz, a book and film that are engraved in the minds of generations upon generations.
"When an audience member is coming in," continued Kirk Lawrence, who plays the humbug sorcerer, "if you throw some cool new interpretation on the character, it's just going to throw them for a loop.
"I don't know if you go to The Wizard of Oz to have some extra experience."
"It's very much the movie on stage," agreed Christopher Russell, who plays the heart-longing Tin Man.
Lawrence and Russell, along with the rest of their Yellow Brick Road-marching cast members, will perform The Wizard of Oz at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 and 15 in the Amarillo Civic Center Complex Auditorium, 401 S. Buchanan St. Tickets for the show, part of Civic Amarillo and Celebrity Attractions' Broadway Spotlight Series, are $25 to $64, plus fees. Call 806-378-3096.
LIke, presumably, their audience, both actors are major fans of the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland.
"I've been watching it since I was a kid back in the 60s," Lawrence said. "It was a tradition every year. ... The family got together, watched the movie, got scared by the flying monkeys. And in our production, they're still scary."
"I'm very much the same way," Russell said. "My first memory would have been in the '90s when I was 5 — don't hit me, Kirk. ... I think my grandma had the VHS of it."
"Oooh, you had VHS," Lawrence cracked.
This stage production is based on the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1987 adaptation, and though it's quite faithful to the film, it does restore the famously excised Jitterbug scene to the story.
But at its heart, it's still the tale of a plain Kansas farm girl on a fantastic adventure.
"The meaning is timeless," Russell said. "The characters are just so fun — you can really identify with them — but I also love how simplistic it is.... The three friends ... all reflect a little bit of what's inside Dorothy. ... It's fun because of how fantastic it is but also, at the same time, how close to home it is."
Audiences are responding, too. Since this tour opened in October, "every night, for the most part, has been a standing ovation," Lawrence said.
"They travel along with you on this journey, from young to old," he continued. "Children are coming dressed as Dorothy and other characters — adults sometimes, too. Because it's so well known, everyone has some lovely connection to it and enjoys being transported along with us."