BY CARY GINELL
We conclude our discussion from a few weeks ago about the production of Conejo Players’ The Wizard of Oz, featuring David Colville as the Lion and Jared Price as the Tin Man. At that point, the cast and crew had just begun rehearsals and were still shaping their characters and getting fitted for costumes. The rehearsal process for the show is arduous, as heavy costumes have to be combined with the choreography, blocking, and the complicated set and production design. Doing The Wizard of Oz involves creating a fantasy world live on stage that looks and sounds like a movie that takes months to fashion. It’s one of the more challenging things one can do in the theater. Let’s resume our discussion with David and Jared.
VCOS: Tell me about the set and the production. What is the look of the show like?
DAVID: They’re going to use projections for the first time at the theater. Dick Johnson is doing the set, which is just ridiculous. It’s amazing. And because of the great work of Shawn McCabe and the rest of the people who build sets over there, we already have all the pieces for Act I. We have a barn, we have a house, we have a root cellar.
JARED: Kurt Raymond does murals for Disney and he’s creating some paintings for us.
DAVID: Oh, yeah. Kurt, who’s playing the witch, he works for the Disney theme parks and he’s done, using a computer, these backdrops that they’re going to paint. He’s created the forest backdrop, the poppy field, Kansas.
VCOS: What did you think when you heard that a man was going to be playing the Wicked Witch?
DAVID: At first I was a little stunned.
JARED: I thought he was kidding. I saw Kurt at a reading at callbacks and I asked him what part he was reading for and he said, “I’m the witch.” And I said, “Huh?” And he said, “Do you want to read with me?” So I said, “Sure,” and when I heard him, I said, “Oh, yeah, this is great.”
DAVID: I had seen him at the Hollywood Bowl. You know how they do the sing-alongs there? When they did The Wizard of Oz, he was the Witch. I watched him when he read with you guys at callbacks that night, and what I like about him is he’s done something like 20 productions of it already and was I waiting to see him dial it in. You know, there’s a lot of underscoring in this show, which I’m not used to. So you have to time the dialog with the underscoring and, to me, I’m Youtubian musically inclined.
VCOS: That’s one of the major things about the movie was the underscoring by Herbert Stothart. He devised a distinctive musical theme for each character, and he won the music Oscar for the movie, not Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. Even Toto had his own theme, which came from a fantasy for piano by Mendelssohn.
DAVID: I didn’t know that!
VCOS: In fact, the Witch’s theme is very similar in rhythm to “We’re Off to See the Wizard;” it’s kind of its dark alter-theme.
JARED: That’s pretty cool.
DAVID: Kurt has the timing down on that underscoring and knows when to come in. Oh, we’re going to have pyrotechnics, too. Flames are going to be flying around and everything. Ray Mastrovito, who plays Professor Marvel and the Wizard, has some magical tricks that he’s doing as Professor Marvel and he also created all the witch’s pyrotechnics.
VCOS: Have you gone through your dance rehearsals yet?
DAVID: Yeah. We had a four-hour dance rehearsal yesterday.
JARED: Yesterday we worked on “The Jitterbug” and “Merry Old Land of Oz,” and it took up four hours. That was fun. “Jitterbug” is crazy. There’s swing dancing and a lot going on in that one.
VCOS: That wasn’t kept in the movie and, as it turns out, it’s the only real number that dates the movie to the 1930s because of the period dancing. The jitterbug was a swing dance.
DAVID: Oh wow.
VCOS: How are you going to fare doing all that dancing in your lion’s costume?
DAVID: Well, I’m worried about that. We were talking about that. Jared is basically wearing a tin can and I’m wearing a throw rug. So I’m very interested in how that’s going to work, especially since I’ll probably be wringing with sweat. So Beth Glasner is fashioning me an ice vest to wear under the costume so that I’m air conditioned. Oh! And you’ll like this part. I don’t know if I should tell you, because it’s a surprise, but you’ll still enjoy it. I told her I had overalls for the farm thing and she said, “Well, is it OK if I bleach them and dye them grey?” I asked why. Apparently, they’re doing the whole Kansas scene in black-and-white just like the movie, so remember that I told you first. Dick Johnson had worked out this color palette of what he wanted to do and he had a meeting of minds with Devery [director Devery Holmes] and they decided to go black-and-white on the first part, just like in the movie.
VCOS: What do you think is the biggest challenge in producing this show?
JARED: I think it’s not straying too much from the characters in the story that people know and love. But at the same time, we have to live up to that expectation and still enjoy the process of being an actor and doing your own thing.
DAVID: I’d agree with you on that, but I’d also say that doing a musical in general is difficult. I hate actors who say, “Oh, it’s just a musical.” Like it’s less than acting. No – it’s acting AND dancing AND singing.
JARED: The music is the most important part because it tells the story and if you don’t have good music…
VCOS: It’s like people underestimating good comedy.
DAVID: Exactly. And comedy, too. There are lots of funny bits in the show. The Lion gets to do a lot of the heavy lifting on the comedy part, but the three of us are all part of that, too. For me, I’m going to say the hardest part is going to be the physicality. I like what Devery’s doing with the honesty of the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and Dorothy, but I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the Lion. I don’t think it would work if the Lion really cries, I think for the character to work, you have to realize that he’s really not that bad off. If he was really that bad off that he was actually crying, I think it might be too much. I’m trying to find a line there between the cartoon crying and something that’s more real. The Lion is grandiose so why couldn’t he cry for real, but be really grandiose about it?
VCOS: Are you allowed that kind of latitude?
DAVID: Devery was really big on that and this was really refreshing for me, at least. The blocking. She puts squiggles on a piece of paper and doesn’t have it all written out. There are no defined lines, but notions. Directors tell the story, that’s what they do, but she lets us make up the blocking. Especially in the scene where the Lion meets you guys. That was all us.
JARED: There was a lot of counter-crossing to make it more natural.
VCOS: Is there a different vibe among you three when Dorothy is not in the scene with you, and it’s just the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man? Isn’t it more like a Three Stooges kind of thing?
DAVID: We haven’t played that yet. In Act II, which we’re working on this week, but we did that in the read-through and we did talk about the timing. There’s a lot of timing in that forest scene where we’re trying to rescue her. “That’s you all over” and lines like that.
JARED: It’s very fast-paced
DAVID: So, I think we’re going to go for that. Maybe I could channel my inner Curly. I was thinking about that this week.
VCOS: Were you surprised as to how witty the script really is?
DAVID: I was surprised, yes. I’d forgotten how many little jokes there are here and there.
JARED: Yeah, it was kind of fun seeing that again.
DAVID: I agree with you about everybody having seen the movie – but it was more of an event for us back when we were growing up. It was on television once a year and that was a big deal. If I sat any closer to the TV, I would have been behind it. Now, it’s 24/7 and streaming all the time, but I’m wondering what it’s going to be like when kids are there and they can almost touch the Scarecrow when he goes by. We work the audience a lot in this show. We use every device we can. Anything to get you involved! We’re flying people around, we’re shooting flames…
JARED: We have a specific performance that we’re doing just for a school and I’m excited about that one. I can’t wait to see all the kids’ reactions to the stuff we’re doing, and getting to meet them afterward.
VCOS: That’s one of the things about this. When you do any other show, you know there are people who are seeing it for the first time. This is different because everybody has seen the movie and they have expectations.
DAVID: I think there will be somebody there who won’t have seen it and I want to meet them. That will be interesting. Your mom liked Wizard of Oz, a lot, right?
JARED: Yeah. This is a very special one for me. It’s been a dream show that I’ve always wanted to do. I grew up on The Wizard of Oz and it was my mom’s favorite movie and then it became my favorite movie. Well, back in 2006, she passed away, so for me, this means a lot to be a part of this, and the Tin Man has always been my favorite character, so in a way, I’m dedicating this performance to her.
VCOS: So for you, it’s not going to be just stage tears.
JARED: No, and that closing weekend is going to be kind of hard.
The Wizard of Oz plays through April 10 at the Conejo Players Theatre. For dates, showtimes, and a link to how to get tickets, visit the VC On Stage Calendar