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Olivia Zeis plays Dorothy in The Community Theatre Players spring production, "The Wizard of Oz", in Saranac Lake.  The show opens on Thursday night in the Harrietstown Town Hall.  Photo:  Community Theatre Players Inc.
Olivia Zeis plays Dorothy in The Community Theatre Players spring production, "The Wizard of Oz", in Saranac Lake. The show opens on Thursday night in the Harrietstown Town Hall. Photo: Community Theatre Players Inc.

Off to see "The Wizard" in Saranac Lake

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of the classic American film, "The Wizard of Oz." A large cast and crew from the Saranac Lake area is in the midst of final rehearsals this week for their production. The show, which opens at the Harrietstown Town Hall on Thursday night, is presented by The Community Theatre Players Inc. The performances are part of a worldwide celebration of the 1939 motion picture starring Judy Garland.

Director Matt Sorensen talks with Todd Moe about directing the popular musical during this anniversary year with a cast of more than 40 local performers--and Toto, too!

Performances: Thursday, Friday, Saturday 7 pm; Matinees Saturday 11 am and Sunday at 2 pm.
Tickets: General admission $20, seniors/students $15, children 12 and under $10. Tickets available at the door. Cash or check only.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

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Todd Moe: The Saranac Lake production this weekend includes all of the favorite famous songs like "Over The Rainbow," "Munchkinland," "If I Only Had a Brain," "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," and my favorite, "If I Were The King of the Forest." The cast includes more than 40 local performers. I caught up, by phone, with Director Matt Sorensen and we talked about directing a popular musical with a big cast, and Toto too. Matt told me that there are two good reasons for choosing "The Wizard of Oz" as the spring production, this being the big anniversary year. Here is Matt with another good reason.

Matt Sorenson: The other reason was that Community Theatre Players were really interested in branching out. For the past 30-ish years, our organization has been performing primarily at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, in Lake Placid. It has been a really wonderful place to work and it has been a really great place, but what we find is happening is, people don't know the difference between our organization and the Arts Center. So, the reason to do "The Wizard of Oz" in that vein was so that we could break out, use the title to attract an audience no matter where we were, and kind of build off of that with our success and our marketing scheme.

TM: So your production, is it based on the book or the movie? And how close is it tied to either one of those?

MS: Well, the script that we got, it is pretty much exact and lifted off the movie. There are some extra bits that are in there to give some ensemble members a little more to do. For instance there are only three dancing crows in the dancing scarecrow song, "If I Only had a Brain." And there are dancing trees, there are six trees actually for the Tin Man: three that throw apples, like angry trees, and three that are pretty much like Las Vegas show girls. So, there are elements that are not in the movie; they spruce up the engagement, for a theatrical setting.

And there are also things like the jitterbug dance number, which a lot of people know was originally in the movie, but got cut for time. That's intact. And there's a lot more dance in our show than there is in the movie. But as far as the script goes, we're pretty much verbatim for a lot of stuff, except for some things which you can do on film, but you can't do theatrically.

TM: So, what's been the challenge here? You're taking such a well-known movie and a well-known story. Does that present a challenge in terms of putting that on stage in Saranac Lake?

MS: It's quite the undertaking. It's not, you know, a unit set in a living room with a couch and three characters going about their lives. We have 20 different worlds, we have a bunch of characters that come out of the woodwork, we've got all kinds of elements that we weave in and out in a pretty short time, but the total running time is just over two hours.

It's a challenge to get any of that accomplished in general, and then you figure in that we're a group that's comprised of community members who all have full-time jobs or are students in school, and that after our day is through, that's when we start working on this stuff.

TM: So you have Dorothy, the munchkins, and Toto, too, and a lot of familiar music.

MS: Yes, and it's going to be great. And we have Joey Izzo, who is a local resident, is a musical genius…he's going to be playing the entire show. He's just playing the keyboard because we don't have a full orchestra. It'll be really interesting to see what he does with the arrangement to fill out the sounds.

The other challenge is that everybody, and everybody I know in my life, knows this story from the film. So presenting this material with as much of a nod to the actual film that we can do, but still staying true to what we set out to do and what our capabilities are as an organization. There's a very fine line of what people will buy and what people will not.

TM: So there's also the notion of 'use your imagination,' and that's part of the fun as well.

MS: Absolutely. And we have grown to count on our audiences for going with us and suspending their disbelief and they have not disappointed us in that regard.

Matt Sorenson is directing "The Wizard of Oz," the Community Theatre Players in Saranac Lake presenting that well-known story based on the movie and the books by L. Frank Baum. It opens Thursday night at the Harrietstown Town Hall in downtown Saranac Lake.

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