Mark Edelman recently announced that he is retiring as president and CEO of Theater League. After 40 years of leading the storied organization he founded, it’s fair to say that Edelman is a Kansas City icon, and he’ll conclude his career with Theater League with an iconic American work: “The Wizard of Oz,” to be presented Aug. 1-4 at Providence Medical Center Amphitheater.
“I always thought that ‘The Wizard of Oz’ belonged in Kansas,” Edelman said. “Every place I ever go, around the country or around the world, when I say that I’m from Kansas, people invariably respond, ‘Oh, how’s Dorothy?’ or ‘You’re not in Kansas anymore.’ I did some research, and it is one of the best-known film brands in the world.”
Edelman hopes the production might become an annual event, creating an “Oz-centric opportunity” for what he sees as an emerging western Wyandotte County.
“There’s a lot going on out there. It’s also near the Agricultural Hall of Fame, so the idea of spending the day learning about what it was like to be Dorothy Gale, circa 1901 when the story was written, and then seeing the show about her was appealing,” he said.
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The production is innovative, like so many of Edelman’s other creative efforts over the years. This “Oz” will combine old time theatrics with cutting edge razzle-dazzle involving a 40-by-20-foot video wall at the back of the stage.
“Besides licensing the music, we also licensed 42 scenes from the movie,” Edelman said.
“It’s the first time Warner Bros. has licensed the use of stills and film clips from the movie for a stage production. They’ll be shown on an LED wall. Rather than use a drop that will blow around in the wind, we’ll be using stills from the movie, and we actually have two animated pieces of film, too: the tracking shot where Dorothy opens the door and they pan across Munchkinland and the shot where the witch is writing ‘Surrender, Dorothy’ in the sky.”
Fans of the classic film will be happy to know that this production uses all the beloved songs. It also includes numbers and sequences that were written for the original movie but didn’t make the final cut, like “Jitterbug,” an up-tempo, jazzy number.
And there’s something else that makes this “Wizard” special: It’s a joint presentation of Theater League and Variety KC, a social service agency that supports opportunities for developmentally disabled children.
“I had seen a production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ that the Variety Club in St. Louis produced,” Edelman said, “and I was impressed with how young people who weren’t otherwise able to participate in shows, like Down syndrome kids, kids with muscular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis, had joy in their eyes when they took part in the show.”
Edelman reached out to the Variety Club KC, and now four developmentally disabled children, two of them in wheelchairs, will be a part of “The Wizard of Oz.” The cast includes 50 more children portraying everyone from townspeople and Munchkins to the Winkies, the witch’s guards.
Chelcie Abercrombie, who portrays Dorothy, says that it seems “The Wizard of Oz” has always been part of her consciousness.
“Honestly, it’s hard to remember the first time I saw it because I was so young,” she said. “I watched it countless numbers of times. And it’s kind of coincidental, but ‘Wicked’ was one of the shows that made me want to become a singer and actor. It’s a different telling of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and I always wanted to be Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) because that’s what every girl wants to be.”
But Abercrombie says she is thrilled to be the witch’s nemesis in this production. Although she portrays Dorothy, Abercrombie says she doesn’t think of herself as the star.
“I feel like Toto is the real star,” she said. “She’s being played by Prudence, and she’ll let me hold her like a baby for hours. She’s the chillest dog I’ve ever met in my life.”
8 p.m. Aug. 1-4 (a show will be held Aug. 5 if the Aug. 4 show is rained out). Providence Medical Center Amphitheater, 633 N. 130th St., Bonner Springs. $20-$35. wizardofozkc.com. For special group rates, call 816-559-3846.
It’s a challenge in a city with so many excellent arts organizations for a new ensemble to establish itself, but that’s exactly what KC VITAS has done. Led by its founder, Jackson Thomas, the choir devoted to new choral music will present its fourth year of summer concerts Aug. 3 at Atonement Lutheran Church and Aug. 5 at Our Lady of Sorrows.
This year, KC VITAS will perform 11 works encompassing choral music, solo art songs and chamber music. As in years past, Thomas requested submissions from composers, and this year the response was overwhelming. Thomas and his crew had 200 works from which to choose.
The international scope of this year’s submissions include “Sum Fragilis” by Lithuanian composer Felisksas Romualdas Bajoras and “You,” the first movement of “The Peaceful Stars” cycle by Korean composer Yimin Wu. With intriguing texts and ingenious techniques, all of the works chosen showcase some of the most creative composers in choral music.
So congratulations to Thomas and KC VITAS for taking its place in Kansas City’s vibrant arts community, and here’s to many more years of enterprising concerts.
7 p.m. Aug. 3 at Atonement Lutheran Church, 9948 Metcalf Ave, Overland Park, and 3 p.m. Aug. 5 at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, 2552 Gillham Road. Free. For more information, visit kcvitas.org.
Every summer the Carlsen Center hosts the Heartland Chamber Music Festival, which includes a public concert featuring a string quartet. This year the festival is presenting the Grammy-winning Parker Quartet in a concert Aug. 1 at Polsky Theatre. The program will include works by Mozart, Leos Janacek and Ravel.
“It’s got the very familiar with the Mozart and the Ravel,” said Kee-Hyun Kim, the ensemble’s cellist. “And then there’s Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata, which is a programmatic piece inspired by Tolstoy’s book of the same name. It has a very incessant, almost obsessive rhythm that’s supposed to portray the sound of a train. And everybody loves Ravel. The second movement was featured in the film ‘The Royal Tenenbaums.’
“There’s a lot of variety, and each work is special in its own way. If someone doesn’t like one piece on the program, they’ll certainly like another.”
7 p.m. Aug. 1. Polsky Theatre, Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park. $10-$50. 913-469-4445 or tinyurl.com/ydygslgk.
You can reach Patrick Neas at email@example.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.