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Center Stage

Dancing into 3D

12/2/2015

The Tin Man had to brush up on his tap-dancing. Jay McGill handles the clattery creature, the one who needs a heart, in the theatrical version of “The Wizard of Oz.” The 1939 movie, magical though it was, needed a retooling to work onstage, and for the Tin Man, this meant a tap routine.

“The Wizard of Oz.” Des Moines Civic Center. desmoinesperformingarts.org. Tues., Dec. 15 - Sat., Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m. Sat., Dec. 19, 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 20, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

“The Wizard of Oz.” Des Moines Civic Center. desmoinesperformingarts.org. Tues., Dec. 15 – Sat., Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m. Sat., Dec. 19, 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 20, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Before rehearsals began, McGill took himself back to dance school.

“I wanted to make sure that my skills were sharp,” he says.

Everyone in this adaption wants to be at the top of his or her game, considering who’s behind the changes: Andrew Lloyd Weber. Indeed, the composer of “Phantom of the Opera” faced a special challenge, too. Those sweeping, emotional ballads of “Phantom” have little place in “Oz.”

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The movie’s score, by Arlen and Harburg, keeps things light. The Tin Man may yearn for a heart, but he does so playfully. The exception is “Over the Rainbow,” and for that one Webber came up with a companion piece, “A Place in Your Heart,” sung toward the end by Glinda the Good Witch. But he did not cut any of the originals, not even the solo from the Lollypop Guild.

“We’ve got new songs like that,” McGill says. “Lively songs, quippy. Webber proved to be amazingly versatile.”

He and the other actors, McGill continues, strike a similar balance between classic and new.

“We have to deliver characters the audience knows, but we can’t merely mimic what they saw on TV,” he says.

WOZ-008Back in 1939, Margaret Hamilton owned the Wicked Witch, but the one onstage, Shani Hadjian, has to create a fresh nightmare. She has to inhabit what McGill calls “the 3D experience of live theater.”

The show’s Dorothy — Sarah Lasko — comes across with similar vitality. “The first time the rest of us heard her go into ‘Over the Rainbow,’ well — there were tears,” says McGill.

The impact is enhanced by a live orchestra traveling with the show. The sound is checked at a run-through in each city, as is the venue’s fit for the set, with its palaces, poppy fields and yellow brick road. Between its old-school materials and new-tech gadgets, “Oz” requires seven tractor-trailers to haul everything from city to city.

“The costumes alone!” declares McGill. When Glinda first arrives, he says, “she’s like a giant floating ball of glitter.”

Yet the costumes, too, he says, “accentuate the reality.” Glinda, in this version, has more of character, with a signature song. The same goes for her wicked sister and the Wizard himself. Webber devised numbers for all three, the better to flesh out the Land of Oz. The same richness of feeling turns up in the first words out of McGill’s mouth, when Dorothy discovers him rusted solid.

In this interview, he shares his cry for help, an anguished croak: “Oil can!”

Overheard in the Lobby: December’s theater includes new shows at StageWest, the Playhouse and at Grandview, the latest update of Robert John Ford’s “Utopia!” — a fond satire about life in Iowa. CV

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

 

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