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Tuesday October 21st 2014

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We’re Off to See the Wizard

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz comes to the Saenger Theatre
By Jennie McKeon

You don’t need to follow the yellow brick road to find “The Wizard of Oz” in Pensacola.

The Broadway production of the classic will be at the Saenger Theatre Wednesday, Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Those who may have missed last year’s show get their lucky, second chance.

“Last year’s performance was part of the Broadway season package, which was close to sold-out before tickets went on sale for individual shows,” said Kathy Summerlin, marketing director for the Saenger Theatre, in an e-mail interview. “This year’s performance was an addition to the season, so there are many more tickets available.”

“The Wizard of Oz” has had plenty of spinoffs, such as “The Wiz” and “Wicked.” However, “The Wizard of Oz” you’ll see at the Saenger Theatre is based on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s rendition of the 1939 MGM film.

“It’s a new, refreshed and lavish rendition of the beloved classic MGM movie,” Summerlin said. “The art deco sets will dazzle and the special effects used in this production are absolutely amazing. Just imagine, how would you create a tornado on the Saenger Theatre stage?”

One thing that will set the Pensacola stop apart from the rest of the tour is the munchkins. Under the direction of Tina Gallant Helms, the music director of Creative Learning Academy, local children aged 8-10 have been practicing for their off-Broadway debut.

“We received the sheet music and training DVD and have been getting together two to three times a week to rehearse,” said Helms in an e-mail interview. “They are so excited they can hardly contain themselves. Every time we get together to rehearse they want to stay longer and learn more.”

Even though the night holds high expectations, the munchkins don’t feel intimidated.

“It is so fun to work with this age of children; they are not intimidated by anything,” Helms said. “Since I began working with them—some of which I have worked with since they were four years old—we have trained for the stage. We are obviously working on vocals and rhythms, but the main focus is feeling confident in ourselves and building through preparation and performance experiences.”

Part of that preparation was to watch the film, since some of the students hadn’t even seen “The Wizard of Oz” before.  Even though it may have been a first for some, it certainly won’t be the last time.

“The movie has had a lasting impact on many generations since it came out in 1939,” Summerlin said. “Who hasn’t hummed ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ or quoted Dorothy saying ‘Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore’?”

“The Wizard of Oz” is a must-see show for children of all ages. Whether you’ve seen the movie over and over again or you’re watching Dorothy make it back to Kansas for the first time, you do not want to miss this event.

“Children will be entertained by seeing the show come to life on the Saenger stage,” Summerlin said. “Adults will be in awe at the costumes and scenery and will appreciate the timeless score that brings back memories from their childhood.”

Not only will the show amaze the audience, but it will also inspire the local talent playing the munchkins.

“I think it’s going to be an amazing night of music that these 12 little munchkins will remember forever,” said Helms. “I don’t have any kids yet, but I can’t imagine being more proud and excited than I am right now. Broadway look out…here we come!”
“THE WIZARD OF OZ”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox Place
COST: $53-$68, plus service charge
DETAILS: pensacolasaenger.com, or 595-3880