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Lightly Staged but Heavy with Charm, "Wizard of Oz" Opens in Covington

There will be a Yellow Brick Road but there won’t be any flying by the Wicked Witch of the West or her monkeys.

The Carnegie presents a "lightly staged" revival of the movie classic The Wizard of Oz starting Thursday, with a small cast of 12, plus eight youngsters.

The show is pretty much planted in the American psyche. Kansas farm. Young Dorothy longing for “somewhere over the rainbow.” Toto. Tornado. Munchkins. Good Witch. Wicked Witch. Off to see the Wizard. Emerald City. There’s no place like home.

The Kentucky Symphony Orchestra shares the stage, under the direction of J.R. Cassidy, who good-naturedly explains "lightly staged":

“It simply means that all of the big sets, cast, orchestra, props, etc., that one sees in lavish productions in theaters that have fly systems, and a stage larger than 18’ x 20’, are boiled down to a minimum, yet are highly effective," he said. "The KSO is attempting this with a 17-piece orchestra, which is a far cry from the 62 musicians we employed in 2007 when we were the 13th orchestra to perform the movie score live to the projection of the film.”

Jack Manion, Northern Kentucky University musical theatre grad (Class of 2015) plays the Scarecrow. “I’ve wanted to play the Scarecrow forever,” he said. “As a kid I thought I was more of a Tin Man, but I grew up tall and gangly,” he laughed.

The way Manion sees it, it’s the Scarecrow who is BFF to Dorothy (Caroline Chisholm, a musical theatre major at Wright State) and “the brains of the operation” with her other two sidekicks, the Tin Man (Tyler Kuhlman) and the Cowardly Lion (Sean Mette.)

As a kid, Manion wanted to do theater “even before I knew people could do it as a career.” He’s been very busy on small pro stages since graduating, in 1776 at Covedale last summer, in Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. for Children’s Theatre in fall and now Oz.

The Carnegie’s Wizard of Oz is “music-centric” Manion says and promises the small cast has no trouble creating a big sound.

“The difference between Wicked and The Wizard of Oz,” Cassidy assesses, “is that when you leave one show you can’t get the tunes out of your head, while the other you don’t remember the tunes.  

“The Tin Pan Alley composers Arlen, Kern, Gershwin, Berlin, and the rest wrote marvelous melodies together with mood-inducing (complex) harmonies that made so many songs from these shows  standards. Herbert Stothart, who took the Arlen and Harburg songs and strung them together with his fabulous score, simply added to the magic of Frank Baum’s wonderful dreamscape.”

The songs are great, Manion agrees, but it’s the songs plus the show’s theme that create a classic.

“Friendship,” he said. “There’s no place like home – but that’s not a physical place. It’s people who make ‘home.’”

Oz brings together the theater, gallery and education departments for the first time, with a playful and contemporary set designed by local artist Pam Kravetz (Manion dishes, “it’s inspired by pop-up books”) and four students from the Camp Carnegie summer acting program (Maya Hunt, Mark Schutzman, Jackson Schabell, and Ben Dropic.)

The Wizard of Oz, Jan. 21-31. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington. 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $30. Two half-price student tickets with one full-priced adult ticket available at box office. 859-957-1940 and at www.thecarnegie.com. Costume contest at all matinees.     

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts