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Empress Theatre Society chooses classic ‘The Wizard of Oz’ for new production

Munchkins from "The Wizard of Oz,' which debuts Friday at the Empress Theatre.

Munchkins from “The Wizard of Oz,’ which debuts Friday at the Empress Theatre.

The Wizard of Oz comes to the stage of the Empress Theatre this week.
The beloved musical is the fourth community theatre production by the Empress Theatre Society, following on the successes of Anne of Green Gables, Nunsense and Chickens.
“This particular production truly displays what community theatre is, and everything we wanted to achieve when we started this tradition with Anne of Green Gables four years ago,” director Erin Bourke-Henderson said.
The Wizard of Oz takes the stage at 7 p.m. Friday, May 13 and Saturday, May 14. There is also a 1 p.m. matinee on Saturday.
Performances are also set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17, Wednesday, May 18, Thursday, May 19, Friday, May 20 and Saturday, May 21.
Bourke-Henderson said The Wizard of Oz is a great choice for community theatre because of its nostalgic title, hopeful themes, familiar music, huge cast and opportunity for children interested in performing arts.
Staging a musical with a cast of about 30 people does present challenges for a community theatre group.
“Having that many people to organize, block, choreograph and costume, is a huge feat,” Bourke-Henderson said. “Space and volume are huge obstacles for this small theatre cast and company.”
“The script also has some high demands, physically and for the set. It’s also very hard executing a fresh director’s vision when people are so familiar with the movie and expecting it to be the same.”
Bourke-Henderson praised the cast for helping to overcome the challenges.
“They’re so very competent and hard-working,” Bourke-Henderson said. “They make a lot of my work load easier and I am certainly thankful for that.”
Cast members are Stephanie King as Dorothy; Len Bloomberg as Lion; Spencer Van Dellen as Tin Man; Gavin Moore as Scarecrow; Sebastian David as Wizard of Oz; Laura Martin as Good Witch; Christin Slevin as Wicked Witch; Peter Morton as both Uncle Henry and Lord Growlie; Chris Pinder as Aunt Em; Chris Adamiak as Joe; Chelsie Harris as Mayor of Munchkins; Carter Meston as Munchkin Farmer; Rebecca Runions as Visiting Witch 1; Tyese Sillito as Visiting Witch 2; River Sillito as Gloria; and Laci McLeod as Tibia.
Munchkins are Mia Berreth, Kennedy Hazelaar, Keaira Henderson, Alexa Loyst, Bethany Loyst, Laci McLeod, Zoe Nelson, Miles Poytress, Sydney Slevin and Evangeline Vandervalk.
“The actress playing Dorthy is a wonderful treat with the voice of an angel, the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow are so lovable,” Bourke-Henderson said. “Even the witches you love to hate. The munchkins are bright and inspiring. There are a lot of brand new faces in this show but definitely a few you will recognize.”
There is plenty of help behind the scenes, too. Bourke-Henderson said to pull off such a large production requires volunteers in a variety of stage crew positions.
Michael Ayotte is musical director; Laura Glover is vocal director; Denise Joel is stage manager; Alex Garrett and Erin Bourke-Henderson are in charge of choreography; Bella DeDominicis is in charge of lighting design; Denise Calderwood and Sherri Deurloo are in charge of costume design; Dianna Wakelin and Lorraine Neufeld are looking after props; Gerald Joel is in charge of the set; and Tara Asuchak is the painter.
The script is based on the 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum.
“It’s important to know that this production is based off the book not the movie but that does not stop it from being a familiar show and still so much fun,” Bourke-Henderson said.
Bourke-Henderson is hopeful people will turn out in strong numbers to support the latest community theatre production, and the people who are involved in putting on The Wizard of Oz.
“These kind of productions build teams and relationships, and can change people’s lives forever,” Bourke-Henderson said. “The Wizard of Oz was the first big play I ever did as a child. I was eight years old and was in a place in my life where I really needed it, and I haven’t stopped acting since.”
“I remember my directors and the process and the stage and I always will. This play definitely has a place in my heart and I hope that this cast and crew will carry a great memory of this experience into their future and that it will positively effect their lives forever.”