Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre is set to close out its 33rd season with a classic -- "The Wizard of Oz," with performances at the Bankhead Theater all month long starting July 15.
Written in 1900 by L. Frank Baum, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was the first totally American fantasy for children and is one of the most-read children's books, according to the Library of Congress. The 1939 film adaptation starring Judy Garland is just as popular.
"The Wizard of Oz" tells the tale of Dorothy, a girl living on a farm in Kansas with her Uncle Henry, Aunt Em and dog Toto until one day when their house is picked up by a tornado.
The tornado deposits Dorothy and Toto in Munchkinland in the Land of Oz. To get home, Dorothy learns, she needs to seek the help of the Wizard of Oz. Adorned with special new ruby slippers, she and her dog set off down the yellow brick road toward the Emerald City where the wizard resides. Along the way they meet an eclectic group of characters, all with their own issues -- a lion who lacks courage, a tin man who longs for a heart, a scarecrow who laments his lack of a brain. Dorothy invites them all on her journey so they can ask for the wizard's help.
Brian Olkowski, director of the Tri-Valley Rep production, says "The Wizard of Oz" is "a family show that just really shows the importance of what home is."
"The cast is amazing," Olkowski said. "(Our production) has aspects of what is known in the story, some of the iconic moments from the movie people are expecting, but there are also moments in the show that are new and exciting. "There's a song called 'Jitterbug' that's not in the movie," he continued. "It's high-energy and a lot of fun, and it'll be a treat to the audience."
This is not the first time Olkowski has directed "Oz"; he did so last summer for Tri-Valley Young Performers Academy, his children's theater company.
"It's been exciting to revisit the story and to explore it deeper, to have adult actors that understand the nuances of the story a little better," he said. "But it's also exciting to have quite a few younger performers in the cast to share their youth and energy and learn from the more seasoned actors."
The lead role of Dorothy is being played by a young actress -- Pleasanton resident Ally Murphy, who will be going into her senior year at Amador Valley High School in the fall. This will be the fifth show she has been in with Tri-Valley Rep.
"I knew there would be a lot of kids in it, and I really like working with kids -- that drew me," Murphy said.
"I saw 'Wizard of Oz' a lot when I was little and never thought I'd be in it," she added. "I used to look up (to Dorothy) so I think it's really cool that I get that chance (to fill that role)."
Murphy said she has enjoyed learning more about acting through "The Wizard of Oz" and working with this cast.
"I love all the young energy the kids have," she said. "Whenever the Munchkins come on, the whole stage lights up -- it gives me energy too.
"It's a really diverse cast and I think that also brings us together," Murphy said.
One member of the cast stands out in particular: Olkowski's puppy Nessarose, a Terrier-Chihuahua mix playing the part of Toto. She was adopted with the upcoming production in mind and aptly named after a witch from "Wicked," the hit Broadway musical about the witches from "The Wizard of Oz," Olkowski said.
"We wanted a dog for awhile, but it helped us make the decision to do it quicker," he said. "We're excited to have a member of our family onstage."
Along with Murphy and Nessarose, the cast includes Rune Lauridsen as the Scarecrow and Hunk, Max DeSantis as the Tin Man and Hickory, Robert Sholty as the lion and Zeke, Sarah Sloan as Aunt Em and the Good Witch of the North Glinda, and Sheila Viramontes as Miss Almira Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Performances are at 8 p.m. Saturdays, July 15, 22 and 29 and 2 p.m. Sundays, July 16, 23 and 30 with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. July 29. All shows are at the Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St. in Livermore. For tickets visit the Bankhead Theater box office, go online to www.lvpac.org, or call 373-6800.