OSWEGO — Scarecrow as a nervous train hopper, Tin Man as a military veteran with two prosthetic limbs, Cowardly Lion as a bully in a fur vest — those evolved characters and more await audiences in SUNY Oswego’s musical adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz,” previewing at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 and opening at the same time the next night in Tyler Hall’s renovated and modernized Waterman Theatre.
The college’s music and theater departments also will bring the updated L. Frank Baum classic to life in two matinees, at 3 p.m. two Saturdays, Oct. 22 and 29, and two other 7:30 p.m. performances on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 27 and 28.
The new spin on “Oz” and its characters better fits stage director Jonel Langenfeld’s twist on the theme: learning about oneself during the long and winding journey in life.
The theater faculty member described the original characters as “animalistic with human qualities,” but the characters are now “more human with animal qualities.”
The Scarecrow, played by SUNY Oswego junior Anthony Sagrestano, has morphed into a jumpy young punk who has been attacked and bullied by other train hoppers.
When Dorothy (junior Megan VanVorce) comes along, he gets scared and pretends to be a scarecrow so Dorothy won’t bother him.
But he gets stuck on his perch and Dorothy helps him down. Instead of straw, the modern Scarecrow stuffs his clothing with newspapers to keep warm.
The Tin Man (sophomore Seth Prevratil) is a war veteran with a metal plate in his head — the actor even shaved his head for a more realistic portrayal — and a prosthetic arm and leg.
Langenfeld said the Tin Man is “the biggest, kindest person, but he is scary looking. He is always trying to help.”
The Cowardly Lion, portrayed by freshman Dwan Hameed, is a “tough guy and a bully,” Langenfeld said. He will have dreadlocks and wear a fur vest. To imitate the lion’s tail, the actor will wear a leather belt that he will “always be messing around with.”
“The lion is always trying to be tough but he’s really a coward,” Langenfeld said.
VanVorce said Dorothy does not change much from the original yellow-brick-road Oz journey to the train-track update; rather it is how Dorothy interacts with the other characters that changes.
“It’s still been a change to create a whole new relationship with the other characters that I’m with than what you see in the classic movie, which is fun to do on my own, because it’s not copying from the movie,” VanVorce said. “So we have the classic ‘Wizard of Oz’ story, but even with the steampunk concept, we are adding a whole new story behind it, which is really cool.”
VanVorce and all the student actors — there are also 10 area children as munchkins in the cast — have had the challenge of balancing their schoolwork with the demands of rehearsals. New York City-based guest choreographer Dexter Jones, a 1986 SUNY Oswego graduate, said working with the students is different from working with professional actors and dancers.
“Academic theater is very different because it’s not about a paycheck, it’s about learning,” Jones said. “I find I have to temper myself to remember that I’m working within certain constraints, like trying to teach and balance the fact that the students have classes and other jobs and such. I really enjoy it because I get to watch people grow. I’m seeing how people are growing through what I’m teaching.”
The cast also features Wyatt Gilbert as the Wizard, Alesha Frasier (Auntie Em/Glinda); Alex Matsu (Gulch/Wicked Witch) and Evan Ribaudo (Niko); Oz dancers Julia Tilley, Ryan Pacheco, Kristen Beyer, Kelci Schlierf, Elizabeth Campbell, Halle Paz, Asha Charles, Joselyn Samora and Ribaudo; and chorus members Tehillah Wilson, Lauren Toscano, Shana Weiss, Maegan Kenny, Laura Perwitz, Wyatt Gilbert, Shelby Gilbert, Logan Rowe, Molly Horth, Tiffany Brown and, in the offstage chorus, Shannon France, Emily Yamada, Sarah Stamberg, Cynthia Fernandez, Andre Nichols, Andrew Kyle, Doug Woolever and William Sandoval.
Munchkins are Azalia Avery, Lyric Joseph, Xiaodao Lin, Rimma Mankiewicz, Griffin Marriner, Makayla Nadzadi, Ben Norton, Leah Norton, Meli Preston, Brooklyn Saternow and Liliana Springston.
SUNY Oswego musicians, under the direction of music department chair Todd Graber, include Kevan Spencer (keyboard), Calvin Cheung and Ryan Smith (violin), Kyler Anderson and Lauren Degnan (viola), Tyler Seegars (bass), Caity Foster (piccolo), Rhianna Hopkins (oboe), Hannah Kruse (clarinet), Katie Proulx (horn), Debra Farden (reed) and Chris Cerbone (percussion).
Production stage manager Nicole Marlowe leads the student crew, along with Cheyenne Bonnewell (technical director), Noca Castillo (props master), Ayanna Stallings (assistant director and choreographer), Cadi Hannold and Anna Chichester (assistant stage managers) and Julia Tilley (dance captain).
Tickets for “The Wizard of Oz” are $18 ($56 for a family four-pack; $7 for SUNY Oswego students with ID), available at all SUNY Oswego box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-2141.
All tickets to the Oct. 20 preview performance are $5.
Parking is included in the price of a ticket, and is available in the employee lot in front of Culkin Hall and the employee and commuter lots behind Hart and Funnelle residence halls.
Those attending needing assistance should contact the box office prior to the performance.