Originally created 05/12/00

Augusta players recapture magic of Wizard of Oz

When it was released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz dazzled movie-goers with its Technicolor-swirl approach to the classic children's tale.

Now, The Augusta Player's are trying to recapture the magic of the classic film by presenting a stage version that mirrors its cinematic counterpart by re-creating the songs, script and visual look of the movie. The Player's production transports audiences to Oz today through Sunday.

A special effects landmark, The Wizard of Oz movie involved a number of pieces of visual trickery that the Players have attempted to re-create. Among these are a Kansas farmhouse that crashes to the stage, a wicked witch that appears in a sulfurous ball of smoke and flame and a climatic balloon lift-off.

"We stuck with the movie as much as possible," said director Richard Justice. "There are some things we couldn't do. We couldn't have the witch melt and there aren't any flying monkeys."

Refusing to heed the theater credo `Never work with children or animal', The Wizard of Oz employs the acting talents of a large group of young actors and one star-struck dog.

"With the dog I made a decision early on that I was not going to worry about it," Mr. Justice said. "Whatever happens, happens. If the dog is on stage he's on stage, if he's not, then he's not. If it works great, if not it will be a little humor for the audience -- a little live theater."

For the actors, the challenge stems from stepping into roles so closely associated with the actor from the film.

"Everybody expects things from these characters," said Brian Stephens, who plays the Scarecrow. "They expect Ray Bolger or Judy Garland. So what we've done, in following the movie, is try to imitate those characters and performances. Actually, for me, that seems to have made the acting process a little easier."

Both cast and director seem unfazed by the idea of revisiting a film that is so familiar to audiences. Instead, they say they relish the idea of presenting these characters in the more intimate venue of live theater.

"In live theater there is always this very loving communication that happens between the actor and the audience," said Eddie Renew, the production's Tin Man. "Hopefully by being on stage and having that face-to-face interaction will allow people the kind of feedback they won't get by watching it on TV."

Cast members have watched the film repeatedly since rehearsals began, pouring over the nuances of their film counterparts, but Mr. Justice said he has purposefully avoided the film since going into rehearsals.

"I've not watched the film one time," he said. "I didn't want to expect Ray Bolger and Judy Garland performances, and now that I've watched this every night, I probably won't want to see it when this is over, either."

On stage

What: The Wizard of Oz, presented by The Augusta Players

When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.

Admission: $8-$26. Call 826-4707.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.


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