Ease on down to see KIDSTAGE’s ‘The Wiz’

July 28, 2009

By David Hayes

Keaton Whittaker (left) stars as Dorothy and Sarah Russell is Addaperle, together in a scene from Village Theatre’s KIDSTAGE production of ‘The Wiz.’ Photo by Jean Johnson?Property of Village Theatre.

Keaton Whittaker (left) stars as Dorothy and Sarah Russell is Addaperle, together in a scene from Village Theatre’s KIDSTAGE production of ‘The Wiz.’ Photo by Jean Johnson?Property of Village Theatre.

Much of America grew up on the MGM movie version of “The Wizard of Oz” starring Judy Garland. Joel Waage wants people to forget what they think they know and rediscover the tale through Village Theatre’s KIDSTAGE SummerStock production of “The Wiz.”

“The challenge is retelling such an iconic story,” said Waage, director of the summer production. “There was so much of the book not in the movie that this is a nice opportunity to invent some things and do-over others.”

“The Wiz” is a modern, urban adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” It takes Dorothy’s story and spices it up with a 1970’s sound, blending rock, soul, gospel and funk. All the familiar characters of this well-known and well-loved musical are along for the journey, and they face the same realization of the phony Wizard of Oz.

For Waage, 29, the journey to directing “The Wiz” began by logging five years in the KIDSTAGE program. He then moved on after graduating from Issaquah High School in 1998 to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater at Western Washington University. He’s since returned to school to complete his master’s degree in fine arts directing.

Last year, Waage was an assistant director on a production with Tony Walton, the Oscar-nominated production designer of the original “The Wizard of Oz.”

Regardless where his career takes him, he said he always enjoys returning to the program where he got his start.

“KIDSTAGE meant a great deal to me growing up,” Waage said. “Working with the theater and professional teachers helps students pursue their love of theater and make friends, helps build and reinforce the community.”

For his latest return to Village Theatre, Waage is working with his biggest cast and crew ever. “The Wiz” features 47 cast members, with another 23 who are part of the Teen Access to Professionals program. It allows burgeoning actors/stagehands to work alongside professionals, building and painting scenery, constructing and building props, pulling and building costumes, hanging and focusing lights, playing alongside adult musicians in the pit orchestra and supporting the artistic team as assistants to the director, music director and choreographer.

As Waage encourages his audience to come in fresh to “The Wiz,” so, too, did he encourage every actor, even before auditions, to steer clear of the movie.

“I wanted them to be able to make their own discoveries, so I encouraged them to instead read the original novel to get their character inspirations from the original story,” he said.

Waage also decided to keep “The Wiz” in its original 1970’s setting for the KIDSTAGE version, saying the best part of that production was its funky sound.

“It’s a sound that many have never seen in musical theater,” he added.

He encourages everyone in the community to come enjoy this KIDSTAGE production of a retelling of an American classic, as it’s very appropriate for general audiences.

“‘The Wizard of Oz’ was one of our truly American fairy tales. So much so, it has become a part of our national identity,” he said.

If you go

‘The Wiz’

By KIDSTAGE SummerStock

7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Aug. 1-9

Francis J. Gaudette Theatre

303 Front St. N.

$12-$14

392-2202 or www.villagetheatre.org

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