BY CARY GINELL
The Wizard of Oz may be one of the most daunting musicals to stage as any – not just because of the technical challenges (making a house fly away in a cyclone, flame-throwing witches, and making Munchkins believable) but also because the characters and actors who portrayed them in the iconic 1939 film are so much a part of all of our lives. Whether you are 8 or 80, phrases like “I’ll get you, my pretty!” “Lions & tigers & bears (oh, my!)” and “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” are ingrained in everyone’s consciousness. With Conejo Players’ ambitious production of Oz forthcoming, we thought we’d chat with a few of the major performers in the show. David Colville is a familiar presence on the local scene. Boisterous and ebullient, he appears to be the perfect choice to play the outrageously comical Cowardly Lion. Jared Price is not as well known on VC stages, but hopes to correct that with his thoughtful portrayal of the emotional Tin Man. We visited with David and Jared recently for early bird hors d’oeuvres and talked about many facets of Oz.
VCOS: Jared, let’s start with you. Tell me about your background.
JARED: Well, I started performing when I was a little kid, stopped for a while, and then really didn’t get back into it until high school. I was an all-four-year choir kid, I joined the speech and debate team, and took years of drama theatre classes. I started doing it more after that. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff out in Simi Valley but this is the first time I’ve done anything for Conejo.
VCOS: What shows in Simi were you in?
JARED: I did Shrek, Godspell, A Christmas Carol, Hairspray and a few others.
VCOS: And where do you live?
JARED: Northridge. I grew up in Encino.
VCOS: Now, David…
VCOS: I’ve been following you on Facebook long enough to know that you just don’t like to perform, you MUST perform. Do you get an anxiety attack if you’re not on stage somewhere?
DAVID: (laughs) That’s actually true. But I took a hiatus for a while and about twelve years ago, I started doing shows again, but I do only one and then wait two years and then do two and wait a couple of years, and then, a friend of mine who you know, Jim Seerden, and I did A Christmas Carol together. I love the moral of that story. I came out and saw Jim in Assassins at Camarillo Skyway Playhouse, and then Jim Bukowski hooked me up with the folks who do all the Gilbert and Sullivan shows up at Hillcrest. So that was it, and I was off to the races and I’ve done fourteen shows in the last three years. It’s crazy, and I can’t get enough of it. It’s like oxygen.
JARED: You got bitten by the bug?
DAVID: Well, I love my wife, I love my life, but I don’t get a lot of joy out of my job, and while I came out here to work as an actor, that never happened; that boat sailed for me. But I can do it and not be a dilettante so it really feeds my soul. The people you meet are also a big part of it for me. I’ve played at Elite, Camarillo, Conejo, High Street, and also at Pierce College and West Valley Playhouse, and they’re all really good people. But after I did Musical of Musicals, I needed a break, physically. I turned down two things, but after four months, Wizard of Oz came along and I love it.
VCOS: Oz is a very strange production because everybody knows the movie. There is no show like it. And since everyone has watched it since they were a kid, everyone is really locked into those characters and how those actors played them. How do you guys deal with that?
DAVID: Well, I don’t know. I haven’t made up my mind yet. I definitely loved the whole Bert Lahr thing and I’ve had people ask me, “Are you going to do the laugh?” And they want to see it, they’re looking for it. So I think that since that movie is so iconic, and since the actors and the characters have melded together, those portrayals are almost the characters, but not quite. So I’m going to see how far off the chain I can go with my Bert Lahr, but I’m doing a similar voice and mannerisms. But Quinn Martin, who is playing Dorothy, is going to be a lot more vulnerable and younger. Judy Garland was just an old soul anyway, but I think Quinn is going to play it a lot younger than Judy did; at least, that’s what I’m getting from her. So I don’t feel bad about doing Bert Lahr but I don’t want to BE Bert Lahr, if you know what I mean. That would be a failed mission. But you have to have a starting point, and that’s how it was played in the movie.
VCOS: How about you, Jared?
JARED: I agree. I don’t want to stray too much either. I’ve been watching clips of the movie. It’s my favorite and I grew up with it just like everybody did.
VCOS: So do you use Jack Haley’s Boston accent?
DAVID: No! He’s not doing the accent, but I don’t think Jack Haley’s accent is quite as identified with the character as maybe it is with the Lion.
JARED: I do it with his movements. I know that when he’s not the Tin Man; when he’s the farm hand, Hickory, he doesn’t say much in the movie, so when we have that scene in the beginning where there’s more for us to do, there are some differences.
DAVID: You’re right. There is a little bit more of the relationship among the three of them.
JARED: And it was exciting that I could bring me out in that character and play with it a little more. But like David, I want to put myself into it but I don’t want to stray too much.
VCOS: What are some of the other differences between the play and the movie?
DAVID: One of the differences I see with Jared is that he is just younger and more innocent a Tin Man, I think, than the one in the movie. But as for differences, we add back the “Jitterbug” number, which is a huge number that they cut from the movie. That’s going to be great. We don’t have the guy playing the Wizard also playing the gatekeeper. And the verses for the songs are all there, which really threw me at auditions because I didn’t know any of them, and I was terrified that they were going to make us sing the verses.
JARED: I didn’t know those either.
DAVID: Everything in “If I Were King of the Forest” is there, but on my part on “If I Only Had the Nerve” I have a little verse and it kind of sets up how it is being a sad, neurotic lion.
JARED: The verses are a little more Broadway-fied, because the endings are different and there are a few extra lines.
VCOS: How are you guys doing with the makeup?
DAVID: Oh! I ordered a big box of makeup because I’m going to experiment. But I’m waiting first to see the costume.
VCOS: Do you do your own makeup?
DAVID: I’ve always done my own makeup. Chris Mahr had come out to help us a little bit when we did our quickie publicity shots that Aaron Kirsch took.
JARED: The costumes are cool because we’re using the same ones that were used in Madison Square Garden in ’96.
DAVID: Beth Glasner and some of the others were down to the costume house down in San Diego and have seen them. So one of the things I’m waiting for is to see the actual color of the costume so I know what colors I’m trying to match with the makeup. And this goes back to the Bert Lahr question because since the camera was coming in so close on him, there was very little Lion on him. He had little whiskers drawn, they did the jowls, and he has his little eyebrows drawn on, but the stage makeup that I’ve seen is much more dramatic. Now, since Conejo is a small theater, I don’t know if I’m going to split the difference or which way to go, so I’ll probably experiment both ways. I know I want the jowls, but Devery Holmes, who is our director, told me she wants me to keep my beard and mustache, but it’s a little furry right now so I’m going to have to spray those. Jared, the silver makeup that they used for the publicity shots was a small disaster for you, wasn’t it? Have you found anything yet?
JARED: I wasn’t told to, but they’re going to find something for me. I know that they were considering some kind of silver that is almost plaster, but I haven’t seen it.
DAVID: You know how it is: you read the script and the first thing you say is “How big is my part?” Then the next thing I do is ask, “When do I pee?” I have to find that out. Then I look at the changes. How quick are the changes going to have to be? The worst thing about the makeup and the costumes is how long we have to change from being the farmhands into the Oz guys. I have the most time because Dorothy meets me the last, but we have a tornado in reverse to get out of the makeup and back to being Hunk and Hickory at the end. We only have a minute-and-a-half or two minutes, maybe. We won’t get the costumes until about a week before we go on so I’m a little trepidatious. Beth showed me some pieces of the costume and there are these grommets on it, so I asked her, “What are these grommets for?” And she said, “That’s to hang extra fur.” So, I mean, like, that fur back wasn’t enough? So if you see the farm hands running on stage, all sweaty, carrying towels, you’ll know why, but don’t tell anyone.
Our conversation with David and Jared will continue next week.
The Wizard of Oz opens at the Conejo Players Theatre on Friday, March 11. For dates and showtimes, visit the VC On Stage Calendar.