Dorothy returning to Kansas with new 'Oz' stage show, movie scenes at amphitheater

When Dorothy meets Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" stage show, audiences will see this scene from the movie in the background.
When Dorothy meets Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" stage show, audiences will see this scene from the movie in the background.

You may think there can't possibly be anything new about "The Wizard of Oz," but Theater League has a surprise.

Right here in Kansas.

In a stage production that incorporates a number of firsts, actors will bring the beloved story to life against the backdrop of original images from the 1939 classic movie.

"That scenery is so iconic," said Theater League President Mark Edelman.

For example, when Dorothy meets Scarecrow on stage, behind them will be the familiar fork in the yellow brick road in beautiful Technicolor.

That is the novelty of a new professional production coming Aug. 1-5 to Providence Medical Center Amphitheater in Bonner Springs. It is envisioned as the first of an annual staging that the Theater League hopes will draw Oz-philes from across the region and beyond.

It is the first musical theater production at Providence, the concert venue that began as Sandstone, and Edelman says, may be the first professional musical theater production in Wyandotte County.

It is also, apparently, the first time a theater company has been granted a license to use images from the MGM film.

"I thought, could we get the rights to 30 to 40 scenes from the movie?" said Edelman, who has been staging Broadway productions in Kansas City for four decades. "Not scenes with Judy Garland. I just want the scenery. I'll use that with 3-D stage sets.

"I ended up flying out to L.A. and worked with the attorney, who said they had never done that before," Edelman continued. "They understood the connection between Dorothy and Kansas and 'The Wizard of Oz' that's very special."

Theater League entered a multi-year licensing arrangement with Warner Brothers Theatricals, which now owns the rights.

The focus will remain on the actors on stage, and the cast of 50 will include many names familiar to local theater audiences.

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The Wicked Witch of the West's castle will provide an iconic backdrop for the "Oz" stage show. Licensed for use for "The Wizard of Oz" at Providence Amphitheater by Warner Brothers Theatricals

But the action and original sets will be enhanced by a succession of stills from the film, such as the Wicked Witch's castle.

To be clear, audiences will not be coming to watch a movie, and the cinematic characters will not appear. But the instantly recognizable backgrounds should add to the atmosphere and enjoyment.

There will be a few film clips — the witch writing "Surrender Dorothy" in the sky with her broomstick and the tracking shot introducing Munchkinland — plus a Theater League-created whirling tornado.

All will appear on a special screen, 40 feet wide and 20 feet high, at the rear of the stage. The system will use LED lighting to provide a bright, high-resolution picture, Edelman said. That's important for an outdoor production that begins at 8 p.m., before dark.

Chelcie Abercrombie will star as Dorothy in this summer's "Wizard of Oz," with Prudence playing Toto. Theater League

The cast will include Chelcie Abercrombie as Dorothy and radio and television personality Dick Wilson as Professor Marvel and the Wizard. Scarecrow will be played by Jordan Fox, Tin Man by Brian McKinley and Cowardly Lion by Robert Hingula. Devon Barnes will play the Wicked Witch and Almira Gulch.

Auditions for the children's chorus will begin at 1 p.m. March 31 at Music Theatre KC in the B&B Shawnee 18 movie complex, 16301 Midland Drive. Children ages 8-13 who are no taller than 4-foot-6 with musical theater experience are invited to audition. For more information call 816-559-3875.

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Dick Wilson will play the Wizard and Professor Marvel. File photo

The creative team is under the direction of Spinning Tree Theatre founders Michael Grayman-Parkhurst and Andy Grayman-Parkhurst and volunteers and staff from Variety KC. Mark Ferrell is the music director.

Tickets for "The Wizard of Oz" begin at $20 and are on sale now at wizardofozkc.com and through Ticketmaster. Tickets for children 12 and under are half price. Lawn seating is available at $40 for four.

The Providence Amphitheater is at 633 N. 130th St. in Bonner Springs. The amphitheater will open at 6:30 p.m. each night for families who want to picnic before the show.

In conjunction with the stage production, the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame nearby in Bonner Springs will also celebrate Dorothy with "Oz Comes to Kansas" Aug. 2-5, featuring activities and entertainment by the Mesner Puppet Theater. Tickets will be available at the gate or at EventBrite.com

Coincidentally, the Kansas City Ballet will open its 2018-19 season in October with a ballet based on "The Wizard of Oz."

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Several outdoor productions of "The Wizard of Oz" have been staged at Starlight Theatre over the years, most memorably starring the late Phyllis Diller.