“The Wizard of Oz” comes to Tupelo

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – “The Yellow Brick Road” will lead to Northeast Mississippi when Dorothy Gale and her little dog, Toto, blow into town.
They’ll be joined by a witch or two, a Cowardly Lion, a Scarecrow that needs a brain, a Tin Man in need of a heart and a team of Munchkins to point the way to “The Merry Old Land of Oz.”
On Thursday, “The Wizard of Oz” will open the BancorpSouth Arena’s 2009-10 Broadway South Series.
The 1939 movie is an undisputed classic of American cinema. The stage version was created to bring the film to life.
“We have a fantastic tornado effect that’s very cool. Our witch will fly. She’ll throw fireballs. She’ll have smoke appear when she appears and disappears,” said Cassie Okenka, who plays Dorothy. “We have Glenda who flies. We have a flying monkey. It’s definitely a celebration of the movie, live on stage.”
In addition, you’ll hear your favorite songs, including “Over the Rainbow,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and “If I Only Had a Brain.”
“We’ll have fantastic costumes and really colorful sets, too,” Okenka said.

Team effort
It takes four trucks to take “The Wizard of Oz” from town to town. The show includes 20 actors, nine musicians and 11 crew members.
We probably should add two more to the actor’s list: Dusty and Loki, who perform the role of Toto.
“I have to meet the dogs before the show, so they won’t be too excited on stage,” Okenka said. “You know how excited dogs get when you first see them. When you come home, they’re always so excited.
“We did an experiment with Dusty to see what would happen if I didn’t greet her, and the first time she ran out on stage, she just went down and showed her belly. She was so happy. It was very funny.”
The cast also will feature young Northeast Mississippi residents as Munchkins and Winkies. Sarah Karrant, director of North Mississippi Dance Centre, and a team of assistants have been preparing 12 girls for the show.
“It’s an amazing job they do,” Okenka said. “We send them a DVD and a packet of papers and say, ‘Learn this.’ They really do a fantastic job.”
The young actors are Rachel Williams, Marley Sullivan, Carrol Trent Imbler, Maya Sachdev, Mattie Hughes, Emma Kantack, Anna Katherine Williams, Kaylie Crippin, Caroline Thompson, Sarah Hollimon, Catherine Barkley and Katherine Hollimon.

In front of you
On Thursday, all of the elements will come together to provide a new look at an old favorite.
“When you watch the movie, you watch exactly what the editor wanted you to watch. You see the Tin Man’s expression, or Dorothy’s expression, or the Wicked Witch’s expression, but you never see what the other characters are doing,” Okenka said. “It’s kind of fun to create those moments that people wouldn’t normally see if they just watched the film. You get to see the whole picture, out happening in front of you.”

Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com.

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