MOUNT VERNON — “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” says Oscar Zoroaster Diggs at the end of “The Wizard of Oz,” when his wizard character is revealed to be a fake. But peeking behind the curtain was the whole idea of the Brown Bag Chat at the library Wednesday, with the production staff from this summer’s musical at the Memorial Theater sharing some behind-the-scenes glimpses of its work.
The production started just weeks ago with casting sessions to fill around 50 roles. According to producer Janis Stone, 117 showed up to try out, prompting director Bruce Jacklin and his casting committee to expand the extra ranks up to 73 to use as many people as possible.
Mike Andrews, the actor cast as The Tin Man, said auditioning in such a crowd was a rather overwhelming process.
“Walking in and seeing that volume of people there trying out, and you are going out for a part, too, you’re thinking ‘How am I going to be better than all these people?’” Andrews said.
Stone said it was heartbreaking they couldn’t use more people. Assistant director Leah Andrews added that the previous summer musicals put on by Bruce Jacklin & Company have been cast within an hour or two of finishing the auditions. However, she said, the process took a full day this year, and led to tears of frustration and disappointment for many on the casting committee.
Jacklin spoke about how challenging casting has become because of the growth of talent and interest in the performing arts in central Ohio. He also pointed out how sometimes casting decisions come down to practical physical concerns. He said there was high competition for the role of Glenda the Good Witch, but Carrie Crouch finally won it on the grounds that all other things (acting, singing, dancing) being equal, Crouch was the tallest, thus making the Munchkins seem shorter on stage.
Orchestra conductor Dane Heuchemer talked about the challenges of realizing a full symphonic score with only 19 musicians. The players will be squeezed into an orchestra pit that Heuchemer likened to the five-person pit in the music hall scene in the movie “Blazing Saddles.” He also explained that as difficult as the music is, only volunteer, non-professional musicians had to be used because of union pay rates that would cause a small professional orchestra to cost as much as all the other production costs combined.
During the run of the shows, the Mount Vernon News’ own Michelle Hartman will be organizing ushers as house manager. But she has also been working with area teachers through the News’ Newspapers In Education program to delve into the background of “The Wizard of Oz,” which was merely the first of a large number of Oz books written by author L. Frank Baum.
The NIE program has delved into those and other books, looked into the mechanics of how tornadoes form, and compared notable differences between the movie and the novel, including the fact that Dorothy wears silver slippers in the book instead of the movie’s familiar ruby slippers.
Andrews explained that the flying used in this year’s production will be less intricate than the flying required for last summer’s production of “Peter Pan,” but because of the layout of the flying tracks, it will actually be more expensive. Fortunately, she said, profits from previous productions have helped the company pay ahead for special effects and costumes, ensuring that a high quality show will still be possible.
A preview will be given on Saturday, June 27, at the downtown office of First-Knox National Bank. Performers will be present, in costume, from 8 a.m. until noon to perform, pose for pictures with children and help the youngsters knock down piñatas. The show will perform at the Memorial Theater, 116 E. High St., on July 2, 3, 5, 10, 11 and 12.