Secondary Characters takes fresh approach to Oz

Secondary Characters presents the Wizard of Oz at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, with shows running July 28 to August 7.

Secondary Characters Wizard of Oz cast rehearses a tense scene with flying monkeys. They present a fresh interpretation of the musical at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre July 28 to August 7.

We all know the story of Dorothy Gale, an ordinary Kansas farm girl who gets swept away to the Land of Oz in a tornado.

The classic movie starring Judy Garland based on Frank L. Baum’s book is still widely viewed and loved, and Secondary Characters is proud to bring the iconic Wizard of Oz to life this summer at the  Cultural Centre.

Director Steffi Munshaw has been performing with Secondary Characters since Little Women (2010 and directing since The Last Five Years (2015), and she has a fresh yet timeless design vision for the adored musical.

“I absolutely love this story,” Munshaw says of Baum’s original work, published in 1900. “It’s so cool that 116 years later, it’s still so applicable.”

Every character, whether it’s the Scarecrow, the Tin Man or the Cowardly Lion, takes a journey in pursuit of something that they feel will make them perfect. But most endearing about this story is that each character discovers what they’ve been looking for has been within them all along.

The Tin Man (played by Lyndon Shuster, 23) wants a heart, but he’s the most loving person of all. Shuster appreciates that internal paradox, and has discovered that the complexity of it is excitingly challenging to portray on stage.

“It’s one of those shows that will resonate with different people for different reasons,” Munshaw explained. “For me, it’s about pausing and taking stock of what you have as a person, and finding what you need within yourself, rather than trying to find it externally.”

Each of the 28-member cast is bringing unique, inherit value to the production.

Choreographer Shelley Wojcik had the daunting task of teaching a diverse group of competitive dancers and first-timers the moves for 24 musical numbers, combining ballet, tap, hip-hop, Charleston and more. Two of the youngest performers were designated as dance captains, reviewing the steps with their 30- or 40-year-old counterparts when they needed a hand.

“Everyone’s pulled together so nicely,” Munshaw said. “There’s adults helping kids and kids helping adults. There are no assumptions about what age means – it’s about what everyone brings to the table.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the entire cast and crew is that of mitigating the expectations that audiences might conjure up when they picture the Wizard of Oz. Secondary Characters’ interpretation is inspired more by the original story, rather than the beloved movie.

Dorothy (played by Halle Galloway, 16) noted that Judy Garland’s character portrayal, movements and mannerisms are very soft, ladylike and reserved in the 1939 film.

“But in the story, Dorothy is a person who wants adventure,” Galloway explained. She’ll portray Dorothy with more gumption and boldness. “[Dorothy] doesn’t hold herself a certain way, or mould herself to fit an image. She’s just a kid going on an adventure.”

A female Cowardly Lion (played by Karlianna DeWolff, 23) puts an entirely different spin on the character. “The Lion was kind of already an underdog to begin with, and now she’s even more of an underdog because she has to be one of the boys. She has to prove herself,” DeWolff said. She’s captured that recognizable goofy voice, and carries it through an array of powerful and sensitive scenes.

This talented crowd is even tackling a wild jazz number that was cut from the film.

“‘Jitterbug’ will be huge for people,” the Scarecrow (played by Cruze Hurley, 18) said. It’s the most complex number and the most time-consuming to rehearse, which is particularly ambitious for Hurley as he perfects the loose movements of a character without bones – or limbs, at times.

Jitterbug is “phenomenal” and full of energy, and it’s the one Munshaw is most looking forward to bringing to the Chilliwack audiences. She’s also excited to showcase the fresh design aesthetic.

The original book included stunning illustrations by W.W. Denslow which drew heavily on the Art Nouveau movement of the time. To modernize the classic tale, the team has decided to blend the beauty and grace of Art Nouveau styles with the mechanisms and metallics of steampunk design, which will be evident in costumes, props and set design.

From “spine-tingling harmonies” to “declamatory munchkins,” vocal director Carmen Harris says this musical has something for everyone. The youth chorus in particular has been so incredible that Munshaw made the unprecedented decision to cancel three vocal rehearsals, because they perfected the numbers so quickly.

Galloway is digging deep to find and exude genuine sincerity in her own interpretations of quintessential songs like ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and to bring true emotion to whimsical, storybook lines.

“It’s such an iconic role. It’s a character that a lot of people love, and people of all ages have grown up with. Being that character is really special. I feel really fortunate,” she said.

This breathtaking show combines the familiar and the unexplored in unexpected ways, and Secondary Characters hopes everyone enjoys the surprises in store.

The Wizard of Oz runs July 28 to August 7 at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre (9201 Corbould St.) Evening performances run July 28-30, August 4-6 at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are July 31 and August 7 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students/seniors, available at the Centre Box Office, at chilliwackculturalcentre.ca or at 604-391-7469. Visit secondarycharacters.org for more details about the production.

 

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