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Further Stage Adventures in Oz, Part Twenty-three: An Examiner in Oz Part Three

As for the main characters, the costumes for the most part took their cues from the MGM movie (which itself had for the most part taken its cues from the W.W. Denslow illustrations), with a few alterations here and there, such as the Scarecrow’s plaid shirt and the Wizard’s atypical finery. The actor playing the Lion was a large man in a thick and very warm furry suit, the discomfort somewhat alleviated by the fact that he used his own long hair as the Lion’s mane.

Our Heroine and her dog (in his dog form) on the front stoop of Uncle Henry's house.
Photos from the Examiner's collection

The Tin Woodman’s costume proved a bit more problematic. The director’s wife, who was also producer and wardrobe mistress, hired what she thought would be something suitable from a rental place. What arrived at the theater was basically a fireman’s uniform. She took it upon herself to come up with something, and created a costume from a silver “slimming” suit and by painting gold rivets on it. The finished effect was quite impressive.

As for Toto, the director had a very innovative idea. In the Kansas sequences, Dorothy’s dog was played by an actual collie that belonged, fittingly enough, to the actress who played Dorothy. But once in Oz, Toto took on a slightly different appearance. In the director’s mind, Dorothy regarded Toto as her little brother, so once in Oz, now played by a little boy, he became bipedal and more human-like.

For such a relatively small production, the variety of costumes was really quite amazing and inventive. The Munchkins had a fair representation of Sleepyheads, Lullaby Leaguers, and Lollipop Guildsmen. The Citizens of the Emerald City were decked out in every shade of green, and the Wicked Witch’s Winkie army admirably represented by some near-duplicate uniforms.

The stage, which was in the then brand new Oak Room of the Bartlett Park District building, had a ramp leading off of it, painted to look like the Yellow Brick Road, and the sets amounted to bits of buildings or forests or cornfields being brought on when the curtains were closed. The melting of the Witch was effected by a trap door on a platform.

It was down this ramp we made many of our exits and entrances. Now, once I had the Nikko makeup on for the first time, I worried that it might be a little too fearsome for the smallest members of the audience. No fear! One performance, when the director and his wife were sitting in the front row, when I left the stage, I ran down the ramp and right up to them and hissed menacingly at them. As I left through a side door I heard a tiny voice call out, “’Bye, Monkey!”

This production of The Wizard of Oz is a largely happy memory for me. Despite not quite passing as a male farmhand in Kansas (simulated five o’clock shadow notwithstanding), my aforementioned benefactress was a totally convincing and loveable Scarecrow, and at the cast party, I gave her a small, round Beanie Baby Scarecrow named Patches.

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