BWW Interview: Follow the Bluegrass Brick Road! Niki Badua Previews THE WIZARD OF OZ at The Alliance Theatre
In the cannon of uniquely American stories, THE WIZARD OF OZ is among the very best. From the Frank L. Baum novel, to one of the most beloved films of all time, to musical adaptations, the story is one that is beloved by virtually all Americans. The Alliance Theatre is staging the show this spring, and pairing the beloved story of Dorothy's journey to see the Wizard and find her way back home with another uniquely American way of storytelling: Bluegrass and Americana music. The creative team behind the family-friendly production has taken the score of classics like "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and created a new sound for the show by performing them in a Bluegrass style. We spoke with star Niki Badua (Dorothy) about the unique style of this show, and what makes this performance so meaningful to her.
How are rehearsals going for THE WIZARD OF OZ?
NB: Today is actually our first day on stage all together with costumes and everything, so it has been a really exciting day! This process has been so different than any other show that I've previously been a part of, because everyone in our cast either doubles by playing two roles, or plays an instrument or a puppet, in addition to their character. Even our Wizard plays guitar, and we do that during the entire show. So that's a unique and exciting aspect of our show. We use everyday items to create folk art on stage, which is amazing because kids could come and see the show and think to themselves, "I can do this at home." That's one of the most exciting elements of our production.
How does the staging work when there are cast members on stage who are also contributing to the music for the show?
NB: We have two stage layouts, one for Kansas and one for Oz. For the Kansas set, we've used all different household everyday items to create a set that will be immediately recognized as Kansas from the overture. The Oz set is made from a lot of windows, and it even becomes evident that the Wizard is a part of the windows that we have been traveling through to see him the entire time. Its very cool and creative!
This production puts a fresh spin on the well-known music from the show (including "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Follow the Yellow Brick Road") by performing the songs in an Americana/Bluegrass style. That's a different sound than most people probably recognize. What was that process like?
NB: Definitely. Its so different from most of the shows that I've been involved with in the past, which have all been done in the traditional musical theater style. During the music rehearsals, I was expecting us to learn the music first and then tweak to adjust the sound that we want. But, we actually did that in reverse, and we really honed the sound we wanted first, and we got creative with the performance - trying things in new keys to see what sounds better, for example. Its been an amazing experience to be a part of creating this interesting combination.
Obviously, Dorothy is one of the most iconic roles of all time. Are you excited to be playing her?
NB: Yeah! Its funny, because I've been doing so much character work recently. The people at the Alliance are so caring, and provide this space for us to really play, and go to a place that we want to grow and learn. And that has lead me to realize that there are so many similarities between myself and Dorothy. We have found that my life has been so parallel to what Dorothy is going through. Her character has so many layers. She's someone who wants and dreams for more, and she finds this place gives her a space to play and be powerful, where she is the one controlling everything. That's how my journey as an actor has been. I'm from Hawaii originally. Theatre wasn't something there. If you told someone that you dreamed of being on Broadway or in musical theater, they would laugh at you, or ask you what your back-up plan was. So I would tell people I was moving to New York, and New York was my Oz! So that makes it more personal for me to do something like Dorothy and go on this journey. And, to do it for kids. I remember being 13 years old and wanting more. I was always wanting more from where I lived and wanting to go somewhere else. So that's why Dorothy is such a cool role for me to be playing right now, because it is doing a lot for me as a person and an actor.
Is there a moment in the show that stands out as your favorite, or something you are excited for audiences to see? Particularly kids who might be seeing this show for the first time?
NB: Yes! I'm really excited for them to see the transformation of leaving Kansas and going into Oz. We're actually still rehearsing it right now. It just feels like we are playing again, like little kids! The way that we are so childlike and changing characters during that time is so great. I think that might be my favorite part of the whole show. I always say to myself, "We aren't in Kansas anymore", and its so real! Because of the art, props and costumes we have, it looks so different and so cool.
I think that this is a great opportunity to see this show for the first time, because of the style choices we are making. Because we are using these household items for example to make our sets, I think that the story is what really shines through our production, and that's what audiences will take away with them.
THE WIZARD OF OZ will play March 9 - April 14, 2019 in the Rich Theatre at Woodruff Arts Center. For tickets and additional information, visit www.alliancetheatre.org/oz.