September 11, 2008

Stage Right Amps Up the Special Effect in ‘Oz’

By Candy Williams

September is a month for rediscovering the Emerald City on two big area stages.

At the same time a touring production of Broadway's "Wicked" is singing the praises of the witches of Oz at Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, Stage Right opens its 10th anniversary season with "The Wizard of Oz" at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

A trip to Disney World this summer with Stage Right's Sensations performing group was the inspiration for some of the special effects that add punch to this take on L. Frank Baum's enchanting story of munchkins, witches and a young girl named Dorothy who learns "there's no place like home."

Tony Marino, Stage Right's artistic director, and Chris Orosz, executive director, say they were fascinated by the shows they saw in Orlando and the special effects used by Disney Imagineers to bring them to life.

Orosz especially was impressed by a colorful new "Finding Nemo" live stage show in Animal Kingdom that she says "takes your breath away." Marino was inspired by "A Bug's Life," with its 3-D projection effects and a wind machine that make the audience feel like they're part of a movie.

Walking out of the attraction, he says he remarked to Orosz that maybe they could incorporate some of the theatrical techniques in Stage Right's "Wizard of Oz."

"It has the extensive tornado sequence. It's the perfect place to try it," Marino says.

And so audiences in Greensburg will find themselves being blown away -- quite literally -- by scenes in "Wizard of Oz" at the Palace. And they'll be able to watch some of the cast members "fly" across the stage. Marino says Stage Right hired ZFX Flying Effects of Louisville, Ky., to teach cast members the art of being airborne - - for Glinda's entrances and exits, the wizard's hot-air balloon landing and takeoff, and the witch's flying monkeys.

"It will be a real Disney-like experience," Marino says. "It is appropriate as we celebrate our 10th year that we break new ground and try new things."

The Stage Right musical based on the 1939 MGM movie will feature the "Jitterbug" dance number in Act 2 that was cut from the original film. The Jitterbug was one of the magical ways the wicked witch attempted to foil Dorothy's plan to see the wizard -- by giving her the incessant urge to dance.

With a cast of more than 80 actors ages 5 to 70, Stage Right's "Wizard of Oz" also will give audiences an opportunity to experience the illusion of "going from black and white to color right before your eyes, like the movie," he adds.

The cast includes Rachael Braun as Dorothy, Scott Sambuco as the Scarecrow, Jason Swauger as the Tinman, Tony Marino as the Lion, Meighan Lloyd as the Wicked Witch of the West, Renata Marino as Glinda and John Noble as the Wizard.

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