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'Wizard of Oz' touches down in Kansas City for week engagement

The national tour of "The Wizard of Oz" with new music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice blew into Kansas City's Starlight Theatre for a one week engagement, June 10-15.
The national tour of "The Wizard of Oz" with new music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice blew into Kansas City's Starlight Theatre for a one week engagement, June 10-15.
Bob Compton Photography and courtesy of Starlight Theatre

National Tour, "The Wizard of Oz" at Starlight Theatre

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Kansas City’s most famous outdoor theatre, Starlight Theatre, located in historic Swope Park, opened the season on June 10 with a new, lavish production of “The Wizard of Oz,” complete with new staging, new music from the creative genius of Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice that added new songs and dance to the original favorites to Dorothy and Toto’s journey from Kansas to Oz and back.

The national tour of "The Wizard of Oz" with new music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice blew into Kansas City's Starlight Theatre for a one week engagement, June 10-15.
Courtesy of Starlight Theatre

Spring and early summer in Kansas City mean threats of severe weather, and, yes, tornadoes--just like the one that swept Dorothy and Toto to Oz--and, as a reminder of that children’s classic story by Frank Baum, Starlight Theatre brings the newly crafted and bright national tour of “The Wizard of Oz” for a one week run, June 10-15.

This particular touring production of “The Wizard of Oz” was adapted by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Jeremy Sams. The production features new songs by Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. People who hail from the Midwest, know and love the story and that Kansas became known as the home of tornadoes and bad weather. Starlight Theatre said that is proud to open its 64th Broadway season with the new North American tour of the classic musical.

Rain and severe storms pelted the K.C. Metro area for 24 hours prior to the Starlight season opener. Rain clouds delivered quite a punch to the area dropping rain estimates of 3-5 inches in parts of the metropolitan area. But, by afternoon of June 10, the rain slowly subsided, allowing Starlight’s opening to proceed as planned. Some light mist, some gusty winds, and an occasional raindrop reminded the audience that this was just across the state line from Kansas and weather changes occur in a snap.

Seven years ago, in 2007, Starlight Theatre last spotlighted the adventures of Dorothy, Toto and friends on its Cohen Community Stage. “The Wizard of Oz” blew across the Starlight stage nine previous times, most famously in 1991 when comedienne Phyllis Diller perfected an evil cackle and demonstrated her flying skills as The Wicked Witch of the West.

The newly crafted version erased the memory of the previous mountings of the classic with more special effects, fantastic lighting, songs, dances, lighting, and spectacularly bright costumes. Also, new to the story is a better introduction of the Kansas farm characters before Dorothy’s encounters with their counterparts in Oz. This works so much better and unites the two worlds of Dorothy’s reality vs. Dorothy’s unconscious dream/nightmare.

In his Starlight Theatre debut, new CEO and President, Rich Baker stepped from behind the curtain to welcome all attendees to Starlight’s 64th season, provide some announcements and promotion gifts, recognize groups in attendance, and recognize Starlight’s season ticket holders before the National Anthem signaled time for curtain up.

“While I’m new to Starlight, I’m not new to the Midwest. And I know very well that The Wizard of Oz is one of those shows that every parent, grandparent, aunt and uncle wants to share with the children in their lives,” Rich Baker, Starlight’s new president and CEO, said.

A St. Louis native and 27-year veteran of St. Louis’ historic Fox Theatre and Fox Associates, Baker took the reins at Starlight in mid-March. He said he’s pleased to start his tenure alongside the Yellow Brick Road.

Based upon the Oscar® Award-winning 1939 MGM screenplay, which marks its 75th anniversary in August, The Wizard of Oz follows Dorothy and Toto from humble beginnings in Kansas to the magical land of Oz. There they journey with Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, foil the Wicked Witch of the West, and meet the Wizard to obtain their hearts’ desires. Starlight Theatre’s opening coincided with Judy Garland’s birthday. What could make the event better?!

This North American touring production coming to Starlight had its premiere in December 2012 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto, where it played for eight months before embarking on a cross-country U.S. tour in September 2013. The tour closes in Detroit later this month.

Starring as Dorothy in the production is Danielle Wade, who was chosen for the role by the Canadian public through the Canadian TV reality show Over the Rainbow. Six of the show’s seven principal actors are Canadian. The only exception is Broadway veteran and Boston-born actress Jacquelyn Piro Donovan who demonstrates her comedic and dramatic depth as Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West, Starlight Theatre said.

Give lots of credit to the well-suited cast for the show. From all principals to the smaller parts, the cast performed flawlessly. The dance numbers were fast, sharp, crisp and fully entertaining. The singing was strong, and the orchestra added another depth of entertainment to the show.

For the Starlight opening night, June 10, Jason Huska, the understudy for Hunk/Scarecrow filled in while the original cast member recuperates from a back injury. His performance was so good that no one would know that he was the understudy. He continues for a couple more nights, a Starlight spokesman said.

Audiences get a surprise when the Wicked Witch of the West appears in the audience to hurl threats and spells to Dorothy and friends early in Act II. Kids in the audience stood and focused on her and squealed with delight at her appearance. And, for adults, nuanced dialogue gives reason to laugh. Jokes (but none off-color) have been added to the original script. One, for example, is a reference to “Friends of Dorothy,” a gay reference. It’s not glaring jokes, but just comments that keep the adults tuned-in and provides them cause to laugh at newer references.

Something also worthy of note are the splendid costumes that come along with the Oz adventure. Sparkles, bright lights, and special effects just make the costumes come to life on the Starlight stage. And, then there is Toto . . .

The show’s furry, four-legged star, Toto (a.k.a. Nigel), also has U.S. roots. He was rescued in 2008 from the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society by Tony® Award-winning animal trainer William Berloni. His appearance draws more attention to the local homeless pets awaiting new, forever homes.

The enchanting musical adaptation features all of the Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg songs from the movie’s classic score, the favorite characters and iconic moments. The new songs by Webber and Rice fit seamlessly into the beloved story and score.

Before audience members sit down to enjoy the sights and sounds of Oz, Starlight invites them to arrive early to take part in two pre-show events, free to all who have a ticket to the show:

Starlight’s Yellow Brick Bash a pre-show festival, offers games, crafts, performances, photo opportunities, the Twisted Twister inflatable slide, caricatures and other activities for families and kids of all ages. Located in the group pavilions adjacent to Starlight’s north concourse, the Yellow Brick Bash is open 6-8 p.m. each night.

Inspired by Toto/Nigel’s story of adoption success, Starlight is partnering with five Kansas City area pet shelters and agencies to host the Take Home Toto on-site dog adoption event. From 6-8 p.m. every night (except opening night) shelter volunteers will introduce adoptable dogs to Starlight guests in the Helzberg Fountain and Garden of the Stars area on the theatre’s east side. Starlight patrons can talk with agency representatives, learn about available dogs and begin the adoption application process if they find their perfect four-legged match.

Also, guests need to plan to purchase dinner at the theater for a nice dining experience provided by Plaza Catering that features both an adult and kid’s buffet. Dining reservations can be made through the web site when purchasing tickets.

Starlight Theatre and Plaza Catering offer both indoor and outdoor dining in an area adjoining the stage and outdoor theatre. Dining choices change with each show with the menu selected by Executive Chef, Rolf Loomis.

For “The Wizard of Oz,” Loomis selected a grilled chicken marsala and a roasted pork loin. To accompany the main dish, roasted potatoes, glazed carrots, and a cheesy corn dish fill out the buffet. Included also are two salads, assorted rolls, fruit salad, cheese and crackers. Desserts are a hot apple cobbler and hot peach cobbler to be accentuated with vanilla ice cream. The kids’ buffer consists of hot dogs, spaghetti and meat sauce, and macaroni and cheese.

Tickets for "The Wizard of Oz" at Starlight Theatre continue on sale now for $10 to $95. Tickets are available online at www.kcstarlight.com, by calling 816.363.STAR (7827) or at the Starlight box office at 4600 Starlight Road, Kansas City, MO 64132. All performances begin at 8:30 p.m.

Discount prices for groups of 15 or more are available by contacting group sales manager Stacey Million at 816.997.1137 or stacey.million@kcstarlight.com For more information, visit www.kcstarlight.com.