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Valentine stages family classic 'Wizard of Oz'

  • TIn-Man-No-Heart-22661945-jpg

    Chris Duir, Christopher Russell, and Kalie Kaimann in the 'Wizard of Oz.' The traveling production comes to the Valentine Theatre on Nov. 7, 2017.

  • Tin-Man-and-trees-8x12-22661943-jpg

    Christopher Russell stars as the Tin Man in the 'Wizard of Oz.' The traveling production comes to the Valentine Theatre on Nov. 7, 2017.

The family friendly classic The Wizard of Oz returns Tuesday to the Valentine Theatre stage.

Based on the 1939 film starring Judy Garland, the musical follows Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto as they are whisked away from their Kansas home in a tornado and transported to the magical land of Oz.

Christopher Russell, who plays the Tin Man, recently took time from rehearsing to discuss the production.

The theatrical production is very similar to the movie, Russell said, noting that favorite elements such as Somewhere over the Rainbow, Munchkin Land, and Dorothy’s encounter with her traveling companions the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion remain key to the story.

“It’s a beautiful take on an already remarkable movie,” he said. “You are going to see things that you’ve never seen before.”

The musical revives a song produced for Garland in the movie but left on the cutting room floor called Jitterbug. The song comes when the Wicked Witch finally wants to kidnap Dorothy, but the leader of the Flying Monkeys decides he’s too tired to deal with that, Russell said. So instead, the Wicked Witch sends her Jitterbugs to tire out the four friends.

“It’s a very high-energy dance number,” Russell said. “And I think the dance, all in all, is going to be something that the audience will really enjoy because the ensemble dancing in the movie was kept to a minimum, but in our show there’s a lot of dancing in Munchkin Land and The Merry Old Land of Oz, and Jitterbug. There’s a lot of great choreography.”

Russell said the show, with its 24 actors, is one of the biggest of which he’s ever been a part.

“I just really love the innocence that he brings to the three friends,” he said of the Tin Man. “He’s just so innocent. He doesn’t think that he has a heart, but it’s very, very clear that he does. He’s a very sentimental and very emotional person.”

The tour also stars Kalie Kaimann as Dorothy, Chris Duir as the Scarecrow, Victor Legarreta as the Lion, Kirk Lawrence as the Wizard, Emily Perzan as the Wicked Witch of the West, Ashleigh Thompson as Aunt Em and Glinda the Good Witch, and Murphy as Toto. The tour premiered Oct. 27 in Lexington, Ky.

The production also has a local connection. Russell A. Thompson, production manager and lighting designer, is originally from Luckey, Ohio. He now lives in Cape Coral, Fla.

Special effects also play a big role in transporting the audience, Russell said. Though the amount of flying will vary with the venue, the production includes some pyrotechnics, geysers, fog, and video.

“The twister is probably my favorite, and I think most of the cast’s favorite, in the show,” Russell said. “It’s really done with video, but the way it is done is truly remarkable.”

Russell said he particularly enjoys the latest incarnation of the Tin Man because the choreographer turned the dance numbers into tap dances, a move that is in step with Russell’s background. He began tap-dancing at age 16 and really got into it while studying at Oklahoma City University, which at the time had a huge tap program.

The college is also where he met his wife, Megan Orlowski, who is on the tour as a dance captain. They have worked together professionally for eight years.

“It’s been a blessing,” Russell said. “As anyone in theater will tell you, that is a very difficult feat to manage, to get to work with your significant other. We’ve just been very fortunate.”

The Tin Man’s propensity to rust offers a unique chance for Russell to take a different approach to dancing.

“The physicality is a huge part of the role for me, and it’s really, really fun to get to play around that,” he said.

Russell said he’s mindful of Jack Haley’s portrayal of Tin Man in the movie.

“I don’t feel that I can mimic Jack Haley, and I don’t want my performance to be a complete mimicry. I want to add a little bit to it,” he said. “I kind of wanted to bring him out a little bit more.”

Russell has also played the role in productions in 2011 and 2016.

“Each production brings with it a newness of sorts, especially, because as an actor most of your job is reacting to what’s on stage around you ... and we [Russell and Victor Legarreta] are finding differences because the cast is so new, there’s different direction, and different sets. ... It’s always the allusion of the first time.”

Russell said he’s looking forward to returning to Toledo, where he performed as the bookseller Avram at the Valentine Theatre in a tour of Fiddler on the Roof in 2012 or 2013.

“The Wizard of Oz” is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Valentine Theatre, 400 N. Superior St. Tickets are $39 to $69, available from 419-242-2787, valentinetheatre.com, and at the box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and an hour before show time.

Contact Shannon E. Kolkedy at: skolkedy@theblade.com.

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