Riverwalk Theatre and the All of Us Express Children’s Theatre are celebrating 30-year anniversaries while the “Wizard of Oz” movie turns 80. A collaboration to present a “Wizard of Oz” play seemed timely. Director Tom Ferris said, “The stars were aligned.”
Talks began about eight months ago for a joint show. All of Us has performed at Riverwalk Theatre, but the play at the Hannah Community Center is their first shared production.
Since the Hannah backstage area is too small, the sets were built at Riverwalk and transported by a moving truck to East Lansing.
Ferris was originally slated to only produce “Oz” but found himself directing, too. He also did the scenography, designed the sound and helped build the set.
“I’m not doing the lights, but I’m helping the person doing the lights, hang them,” Ferris said. “I do a little bit of everything.”
London Arrangements is providing the soundtrack. The director worked with them when he did “Young Frankenstein” at Riverwalk. Due to the time difference, any desired change in “Oz’s” music was e-mailed after an evening rehearsal and a corrected digital recording was returned before the next practice. Key changes, added measures, or tempo modifications could be completed by noon — Lansing time — the next day.
It isn’t unusual for the nearly 70-year-old to be involved in multiple aspects of a play — often uncredited. Ferris has been involved in area theater since a sophomore in high school. He switched from studying science and physics at the University of Michigan to earn a degree in education from Michigan State University.
For 17 years, Ferris taught high school English and drama classes in the Lansing School District.
“In my theater classes, I encouraged kids to get involved in all aspects of play production,” he said.
Once every three years, he directed a show that involved all the Lansing elementary and junior high school theater classes.
“That’s where I got the experience to work with large groups of people,” Ferris said.
Well over a hundred auditioned for “Oz.”
Its cast includes 36 kids, 16 adults and 1 dog.
“I’ve got some really young kids up to septuagenarians,” he said. “They get along really well.”
All of Us includes youth from all over the Greater Lansing Area from 8 to 18 years old. Actors pay fees that reflect their participation in on- or off-stage roles. Most funding comes from grants. All of Us is also partnered with the City of East Lansing.
“Many of them participate in the arts programs in their schools,” he added, “which causes a lot of rehearsal conflicts.”
Although Ferris said this production of “Oz” isn’t like the movie, audiences can expect all its major songs and elements.
“There’s a lot of scene changes,” he said. “She goes from Kansas to Oz and back.”
Corn and poppy fields, snow, a witch’s castle, haunted forest, yellow brick roads and more will appear on the community theatre’s stage.
“What I’m looking forward to most about this production,” Ferris said. “Is sweeping the stage and saying, ‘That was fun.’”
"The Wizard of Oz"
Riverwalk Theatre and All of Us Children’s Express
Hannah Community Center
April 26 to 28 and May 3 to May 5
$10, 17 and under: $7
819 About Rd., East Lansing
(517) 333-2580 ext. 0
Showtimes available at showtix4u.com
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