Bringing 'The Wizard' to WestchesterPublished: Thursday, July 31, 2014 By: Kevin Plelan Source: The Journal News
Richard Stafford will direct "The Wizard of Oz" at Westchester Broadway Theatre from July 31-Sept. 21. It's the tenth show he's directed there. He discusses the musical and his love of theater.
That was in 1979 and now he's back to helm "The Wizard of Oz," the 10th production he's directed at the venue.
He's glad to return.
"I love the flexibility of the stage," Stafford says. "I love working on the thrust [with audience on three sides], it really brings an intimacy to theater, which I really respond to and love working in."
"We always get wonderful people — New York talent — to come there to perform. They also do shows which I love to do: 'Can Can,' 'Fiddler on the Roof,' 'Singin' in the Rain,' 'Gypsy,' 'The Full Monty.' They do wonderful titles. So all of those things are just some of the reasons I love to return."
The musical, based on the MGM film, runs from July 31 through Sept. 21 as part of the theater's 40th anniversary season. Speaking on the phone, Stafford answered a few questions before the show opens.
When did you first become interested in theater?
I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I saw a road tour, a bus and truck tour, of "Hello, Dolly!" that Betty Grable was in. I remember that vividly and I must have only been about 8 or 9 when that came through. I remember thinking how I was just enthralled with the magic of the lights and the costumes and the action and music. All of that, I've always loved.
I began dancing at a very early age and I didn't really know where that would take me, but I would say that very early on there was never really anything else that piqued my interest. I always loved the theater and I always loved dancing and I always loved singing and those who did all of that. So I never looked back.
Has this been a difficult show to put together?
There are just so many elements. There's flying; we fly the Wicked Witch of the West and Almira Gulch, we fly Glinda, we fly a monkey, we have to fly the balloon with the wizard in it at the end. We also have children in the show, so it's working with their schedules. Then we have dogs, so that's a whole other element that has to be factored into rehearsal time. That means significant rehearsal time so that the actors that are working with the dogs have time to get to know the dogs and vice versa. So it's really a scheduling issue. The show itself is wonderful, it's just a matter of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.
How faithful will the musical be to the film?
It's fairly similar, as similar as any play can be to a movie. I'm certainly attempting to not copy the film or mimic the film in any way, but just to pay homage to the film, because it's something we know and love. I'm certainly not trying to reinvent it in any way. The songs are the songs you know, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "If I Only Had a Brain."
Was it at all intimidating taking on such a beloved property?
Yes, I have to admit that it is. But when you actually work with it and if you have wonderful actors like we do, then it does come to life before our eyes. I'm loving the process, I'm having a great time with the rehearsals and everybody is wonderful in the show. So any intimidation I felt as I was preparing for the piece — which was to give it full value and to do justice to the piece — I don't feel now once I started rehearsals because everyone is so wonderful. There's such a great team working on it and a great cast. Jonathan Stahl, who's working on the choreography, is doing a beautiful, beautiful job. There's no choreography in the film really to speak of and this being a musical, we have more choreography in it, so it's all very exciting to see that coming together.
What about the story do you think makes it so enduring?
I think the story of a lost girl who finds her way home back home, to the meaning of home and the importance of home, to all of us, I think that resonates very strongly.
That idea that we have many of the elements or qualities that we think we don't have and we just need to have those pointed out to us and brought out to us, I think every generation has those aspirations and can respond to that.
- 'The Wizard of Oz' will be onstage at Westchester Broadway Theatre from July 31-Sept. 21