From the sepia toned sets and costumes of Kansas and the colorful scenes of Oz to the melting wicked witch and the horse of different colors, the classic story of Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion will come to life on the Princess Theatre stage in downtown Decatur.
“I’m not trying to duplicate the movie, but I’m trying to give our audiences the same experience,” director Susan Thompson said. “I want the audience to come to this show and feel like they are sitting on their couch, surrounded by their favorite blanket, because I want them to feel so comfortable with the story and the characters that it’s just like being at home.”
The curtain will rise on the opening performance of Dream Weavers Children’s Theatre’s traditional production of “The Wizard of Oz” on Friday at 7 p.m. Other performances will take place Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Highlighted by the classic songs “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” the musical closely follows the movie starring Judy Garland, which premiered 80 years ago.
“I had been thinking about doing ‘The Wizard of Oz’ for a while. I wanted a show that had a lot of meaty parts, that would appeal to a wide range of the public and that had a lot of roles for different ages in it. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was like being sent an angel in a dream. It just fit,” said Thompson, who previously directed the musical in 2007 at Austin High School.
Auditions attracted more than 100 children and adults, including 15-year-old Kari Erickson, who wore a gingham shirt, braided her hair and sang a version of “Over the Rainbow.”
“The moment Kari came in, I knew she was my Dorothy. Her professionalism and emotion and the way she handled that song and the range, she nailed it,” Thompson said.
The role of Dorothy carries a special meaning for the Hartselle High sophomore, who grew up watching the movie — her mother’s favorite.
“I’ve always been obsessed with ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ I sang it at my grandmother’s funeral when I was 8, so it means a lot to me,” Erickson said.
Like Erickson, Andrew Sybert’s history with the musical dates back to his childhood.
“I used to get ‘Wizard of Oz’ ornaments to put on the Christmas tree every year,” the 30-year-old Sybert, of Danville who portrays Scarecrow, said. “These characters are near and dear to people, so bringing them to life is a big responsibility.”
In Sybert, who was introduced to the theater while at Gordon Bibb Elementary School, now known as Banks-Caddell, and performed as a character actor at Walt Disney World, Thompson sees Dream Weavers achieving its mission.
“Andrew was someone I knew immediately I wanted in this cast. He’s had so much experience, and the younger kids are watching him. That, to me, is what Dream Weavers is all about, people learning from each other,” Thompson said.
The 82-member cast features actors ranging in age from 4 to 50-something. Whitney Miles, who doubles as Auntie Em and Glinda the Good Witch, is sharing the stage with some of her current and former elementary school students.
“I’ve enjoyed working with the munchkins. It’s a great reminder to put into action what I’ve been teaching them,” Miles said. “I’m also learning a lot. Taking on these two roles has also been a challenge. My personality is more like Auntie Em’s, but that role has been more of a challenge for me. Becoming Glinda is easier. Maybe because she is clearly a character.”
To transform the Princess Theatre into “The Wizard of Oz,” Dream Weavers will use six backdrops — the most in Thompson’s career — recycle set pieces from “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Oklahoma” for the Tinman’s shed, the farmhouse and the castle and costume the cast in wardrobes created by Paulette Morgan.
“She has made nearly every outfit for the entire cast by hand. She refused to put the munchkins in T-shirts because she wanted to do this right. She paired the munchkins up where maybe the skirt of the girl munchkin matches the vest of a boy munchkin. She is amazing,” Thompson said.
Susan Kirkes arranged the show’s choreography, which features tap and jazz numbers with turns, kicks, leaps and lifts.
“The movements range from simple hand movements to full-on major moves,” said featured jitterbug dancer and dance captain Lydia Matthews, a sophomore at Decatur High School.
Along with the detailed choreography, backdrops and costumes, the production will include special effects — set pieces will spin across the stage and the Wicked Witch will throw a fireball.
The cast includes Erickson as Dorothy, Sybert as Scarecrow, Miles as Auntie Em and Glinda, Matthews as lead dancer, Wes French as Uncle Henry and Ozian guard, Jackson Little as Cowardly Lion, Brady Haulie as Tinman, Erika Ladner as the Wicked Witch and Daisy the dog as Toto.
“It’s going to be a really fun, family-friendly show. These are songs everyone knows and can sing along to and characters people love,” Sybert said. “And, if none of that is enough, we have Daisy.”
Tickets cost $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. princesstheatre.org.