A Simplistic ‘The Wizard of Oz’

When one thinks “The Wizard of Oz,” his or her first thoughts usually turn to words like big, bold, colorful or grand.

The production that opens 8 p.m. Friday in the Waller Hall Studio Theater, though, may serve to counteract that reaction.

While the plot stays the same, Matt Spencer (senior, musical theater), the show’s director, insists that this production offers  something new and, when considering all previous incarnations of Oz, unusual.

Dorothy, played  by Alexis Reisinger (freshman, theater and dance), still gets swept up in a tornado that lands her in the magical land of Oz, where she meets

the Scarecrow, played by Nick Hudak (music); the Tin Man, played by Neal Zucker (management); and the Cowardly Lion, played by Amos Glass (sophomore, theater and marketing).

“What makes our Oz differ­ent is that simplicity is at its core,” Spencer said. Spencer’s “Oz” isn’t the typical large-scale production that utilizes dozens of elementary school students as munchkins.

This production uses elements of what Spencer calls “a treasure chest full of odds and ends” to create the wondrous world of L. Frank Baum’s Oz.

But, in the world of the theater, simplicity doesn’t always mean that everything will be easier.

Although “The Wizard of Oz” is made up of 54 characters, the cast list only contains eight names.

Naturally, that means that the majority of the cast members play more than one role, including the leads. One actor, Zachary Ferrulli (sophomore, theater), plays 10 different parts.

The minimalism doesn’t only ap­ply to the casting choices, though. The show’s set construction, special effects and even costumes are all simple in practicality.

“The costumes are very minimalistic in the fact that each actor only has a few pieces to represent each character,” said costume designer Laura Hucik, a re­cent Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate.

Adding to the difficulty of taking a 54-character musical and performing it with only eight actors in a small studio space, the planned four-week rehearsal process was cut down to three weeks at the last minute.

Glass, who plays two other roles, said that the shortened rehearsal period, par­ticularly the first week of rehearsals, was definitely a challenge.

“They had to pack two weeks of re­hearsal into one class-filled week,” Glass said.

Thankfully, the idea to do the show this way has been in development be­tween Spencer and Hucik since 2011, giving them plenty of time to work out all the details. So why take a musical that typically demands extravagance and do it simplistically?

According to Spencer, the low-key approach to the various areas of production allows the cast and crew, as well as the audience, to concentrate on the story itself without being distracted by flashy sets and costumes.

“It also allows us to play tongue in cheek with the style of the show,” Spencer said, “paying homage to the movie, but also creating an original world of Oz that’s all our own.”

Glass, who also designed the props used in the show, said that agrees with Spencer’s vision of a classic musical with “a bit more of a farce-y feel” to it.

“We need a bigger tent for how much camp is in this show,” Glass said.

“The Wizard of Oz” opens in the Waller Hall Studio Theater Friday at 8 p.m. and continues with an 8 p.m. show Saturday and a 2 p.m. show Sunday.

Tickets are $7 regular admission and $4 with an I-Card.