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New Musical 'WAS' Remakes Story of Oz

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October 11, 2005 | by Judy Moore

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EVANSTON, Ill. --- “WAS,” a new musical based on the novel by Geoff Ryman, with book and lyrics by Barry Kleinbort, music by Joseph Thalken and direction by Tina Landau, will premiere on the Evanston campus at Northwestern University’s Ethel M. Barber Theatre, 30 Arts Circle Drive, on Oct. 28. The official press opening is Nov. 4.

“WAS” is the initial production from the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP), a new initiative launched in May and dedicated to nourishing the vitality of American music theatre through the development and production of new musicals by the field’s leading artists.

Under the leadership of Executive Director Dominic Missimi and Artistic Director Stuart Oken, the project also will increase opportunities for education and training within Northwestern’s theatre, dance and opera programs and initiate a series of interdisciplinary research projects.

“WAS” is the first of five new musicals that will be presented during the next two years on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

Providing seed funding for this initiative are prominent Northwestern alumnus and respected Hollywood writer, actor, producer and television, film and theatre director Garry K. Marshall and his wife Barbara.

Performances of “WAS” will be held at the Barber Theatre at 8 p.m. Oct. 28 and Oct. 29; 2 p.m. Oct. 30; 8 p.m. Nov. 3 through 5; 2 p.m. Nov. 6; 8 p.m. Nov. 9 through 12; and 2 p.m. Nov. 13.

“WAS” weaves the intersecting stories of two unlikely heroes living a century apart. The first story follows Dorothy Gael, an orphan sent to live in Kansas in the 1870s, who becomes the inspiration for the main character of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” The second story follows Jonathan Wood, an actor in the 1980s whose lifelong obsession with “The Wizard of Oz” leads him to Kansas hoping to find proof of Dorothy’s existence. The Shen Family Foundation and Barbara Whitman and David Carlyon serve as honorary producers of this production.

Barry Kleinbort has received the Edward Kleban Award and two Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theater Foundation commendations for his lyrics. Composer Joseph Thalken recently premiered his new musical “Harold and Maude” (book and lyrics by Tom Jones) at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J. Tina Landau recently directed “The Cherry Orchard” and the acclaimed revival of “The Time of Your Life” at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre where she is an ensemble member.

While the cast of “WAS” is predominantly comprised of Northwestern Music Theatre students, two guest artists -- eight-year-old Allison Sparrow and Chicago actress Deanna Dunagan -- will join Northwestern University junior Morgan Weed in portraying the character of Dorothy.

The production will feature scenery by second year graduate student Collette Pollard, lighting by guest artist Michelle Habeck, costumes by third year graduate student Meghan Raham, projections by guest artist John Boesche, and sound by guest artists Ray Nardelli and Josh Horvath. Ryan Nelson, assistant professor of conducting and ensembles at Northwestern, is musical director.

In conjunction with the production of “WAS,” AMTP will sponsor a symposium called “From the Wonderful Wizard to ‘WAS’: The Legacy and Challenges of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5. The daylong symposium will be held at the McCormick Tribune Center. (Visit <www.amtp.northwestern.edu> for detailed information.)

Guest speakers include screenwriter Mark Evan Swartz, who will talk about the stage history of “The Wizard of Oz,” and Stacy Wolf, author of “A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical.” Wolf’s lecture is titled “Wicked Women and Musical Theatre in the 21st Century.” Theatre director and performance historian Tim Raphael and Derek Goldman, founding artistic director of the StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance in Pittsboro, N.C., will discuss their project “Hymn to Elsewhere,” an exploration of media and migration inspired by the works of Salman Rushdie. The symposium is free and open to the public. For more information or to request a brochure, call (847) 491-5146.

Theatre tickets for “WAS” are priced from $10 to $25. For more information or to order single or group tickets by phone, call the Theatre and Interpretation Center Box Office at (847) 491-7282.

Online ticket sales for Northwestern mainstage productions also are available through TicketWeb.com at the Northwestern University Theatre and Interpretation Center Web site at <http://www.tic.northwestern.edu/tickets> and clicking the TicketWeb icon.