Off to see the Wizard For the first time since 2006, Rainbow Stage returns to the wonderful world of Oz
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The Wizard of Oz
● Rainbow Stage, Kildonan Park
● Opens tonight, runs to Sept. 4
● Tickets $40-$67 at rainbowstage.ca
For the first time since 2006, Rainbow Stage is getting ready to take audience members over the rainbow while they sit in the banana-coloured chairs of the beloved theatre.
It’s T-minus eight days until the première of The Wizard of Oz. The stage stairs are now a freshly painted yellow brick road. The venue’s famous acoustics embrace the actors’ voices as they rehearse their lines.
Onstage, rows of bicycle wheels are draped from the ceiling, encompassing an eerie throne. Soon, the Wicked Witch of the West will take her seat.
Sustainability and set design go hand and hand for Narda McCarroll, who designed the company’s Cinderella production in 2019. Imagine an Emerald City composed of green glass bottles or a sculpture of yogurt containers painted silver, brass and gold — you get the picture.
In a way, there’s a teleological flair to McCarroll’s set design philosophy: each character’s scene is fitted with a corresponding recycled item that the actors bring to life.
“When we get to the Tin Man’s forest, every tree is built out of actual recycled tin cans. When you get to the Scarecrow, when you meet him and he’s working on the farm raking everything, the corn field is made out of recycled rakes,” says Carson Nattrass, Rainbow’s artistic director.
The sustainable set philosophy is just one way Rainbow Stage adds its own twist to a timeless classic. It’s the seventh time the theatre company has produced the musical — based on the novel by L. Frank Baum, and featuring music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg — which first played under the dome in 1956.
“It’s the most produced show in our history… There isn’t a more appropriate show that welcomes all generations of audience members.” – Carson Nattrass
The current edition of the production was originally supposed to play in the summer of 2020 — for obvious reasons, it did not.
Coming together after being apart for two years has been a profoundly moving experience for the cast. Chase Winnicky, who plays the Tin Man, feels the premise of “there’s no place like home” now has a deeper meaning.
“We all really missed the theatre community — and it truly is a community — and so to be back together in person and under the dome, and have an audience when we do open will be a really nice welcome back,” Winnicky says.
Each cast and crew member followed different theatrical paths that ultimately led them to the production. Nattrass came to Rainbow Stage through family ties, starting as an actor and working his way up into the artistic director’s chair. Alyssa Crockett was rejected nine times before scoring the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Laura Olafson, who plays the Good Witch, first auditioned for a Rainbow Stage production at age 11, but she didn’t score a role until she was in university.
But virtually all have one thing in common: the magic of Oz at Rainbow Stage enchanted them from a very young age.
“I grew up coming to Rainbow Stage and similarly, my first show was in 2006, seeing The Wizard of Oz,” Crockett says.
“We have a picture of her standing in front of the set, like, ‘I just saw the show!’ ” Nattrass adds.
“Yeah, it’s been my dream ever since I first auditioned when I was 16,” Crockett says.
The behind-the-scenes world of Oz is almost as majestic as the one onstage. Each night, a live, 14-piece orchestra will play familiar favourites. Julia Davis is uniquely behind and on the scene: she understudies for the role of Dorothy and also operates the puppet of Toto, Dorothy’s beloved Cairn terrier.
“Julia does such an incredible job as the Toto puppeteer,” Crockett said. “The puppet seems so alive. It’s very easy for me to love the dog and feel emotionally connected.”
The camaraderie among the cast members is palpable. Despite working six eight-hour days a week for nearly a month, few of them express any feelings of burnout.
“I keep having to remind myself that I’m at work right now, and we’re all just dressing up and dancing around,” says Nathaniel Muir, who plays the Lion. “It’s so cool seeing people… who’ve been doing this for years, doing all these things, and they still approach it with the same joy and excitement I feel doing it for the first time.”
Decades on, The Wizard of Oz has little trouble drawing audiences into the Emerald City. The cast members attribute its success to affection for the material — whether it’s the book, the stage show or the 1939 film — and its intergenerational appeal.
“It’s the familiarity of a story you already know, but we’ve all been able to bring ourselves to it and find our differences and what we bring to each character,” Winnicky says.
“It’s the nostalgia factor,” adds Jaz Sealey, who plays the Scarecrow. “You know what’s going to happen, so you can be ahead of things occasionally, but then also because it’s new people telling the story, we have new surprises for you.”
“It’s the nostalgia factor… You know what’s going to happen, so you can be ahead of things occasionally, but then also because it’s new people telling the story, we have new surprises for you.” – Jaz Sealey
In a way, Nattrass believes Kildonan Park mirrors the land of Oz: there’s an Emerald City of pine trees, the mystical witch’s hut and, of course, the tiny little munchkins frolicking on the playgrounds. It’s why he recommends exploring the park grounds before hitting the stage to get the full experience.
“Begin the journey. Come early, have a picnic, and skip your way into the theatre for probably what will be the best theatre experience of your life,” Nattrass said.