Sellout Crowds Flock To Gainesville's Next Tornado

Sellout Crowds Flock To Gainesville's Next TornadoAnother tornado heads to Gainesville as GTA sells out "The Wizard of Oz" before its Nov. 6 opening

After beginning work on their Nov. musical last May, the Gainesville Theatre Alliance design team could see that "The Wizard of Oz" was shaping up to be the most technologically challenging show in the group's 39-year history. And with lingering community memories about pre-video and streaming times, when the iconic movie was the Super Bowl for American families, every one of GTA's 13 performances has already sold out, over a week before its Nov. 6 opening at Brenau University's Hosch Theatre, 429 Academy Street, Gainesville, GA 30501.

"The Wizard of Oz" GTA's first MainStage production of the season, follows the groups WonderQuest production of Sophie and the Pirates, which was seen by over 6,000 young patrons. The GTA is a nationally-acclaimed collaboration between the University of North Georgia, Brenau University, theatre professionals, and the North Georgia community.

Adapted from the 1939 MGM film by John Kane, this version of "The Wizard of Oz" is the closest onstage rendition to the beloved movie, featuring all of the original soundtrack by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Haburd, with a few musical additions that were either dropped from the film because of time constraints or developed just for the stage. Although the script and music will closely resemble the film, audiences shouldn't expect a carbon copy.

"I believe we are embracing the classic," says Guest Director, Heidi Cline McKerley, "but we are also finding ways to pull 2018 into the story."

With a rotating onstage turntable creating the illusion of movement down the infamous Yellow Brick Road, and projections creating the many locations in the story, this production aims to create a new spin on the original just as the Lion King stage production nodded to AND reimagined its cartoon inspiration. Scenic Designer, GTA Director of Design & Technology and UNG professor Larry Cook says all that reimagining, bankrolled by last year's strong ticket sales and great university support, makes Oz the most technically difficult show GTA has ever put onstage.

"Dealing with all of the technology we are employing is the show's biggest challenge," says Cook. "The revolving turntable...people flying...projections...All that in one show? Wow!" Cook, a resident designer for GTA and professor at UNG-Gainesville, has drawn most of his inspiration from the original Wizard of Oz novel by L. Frank Baum. "We wanted to create a world familiar to Kansas, but distinctly different and very odd." The team seeks to accomplish this through use of a revolving platform onstage and images and animations digitally projected onto various backdrops.

"I had this image in my head of Dorothy and friends skipping along and staying in one place, and I knew the only way to make that happen was with a really big revolve," Cook explains.

The turntable took 50-plus students and hired carpenters to install onto the stage, and requires a Scenic Automotive Supervisor to run and operate it backstage during shows.

"With the revolve, it is difficult to put classic scenery onstage," says Cook, "Hopefully the projections will help with that." This production features approximately 30 different projections and animations designed by Cook and a team of three students.

Not to be overlooked are the costumes, which have been designed by Pamela Workman, a resident GTA designer and the costuming professor at Brenau University. While paying respect to the iconic film (Dorothy will be in gingham), Workman seeks to give audiences a new and fresh take on the fashions of Oz.

"Who doesn't want to see a monkey in a utility-kilt?" Workman joked. "It's fun trying to find ways to nod to the original while keeping my own aesthetic."

Workman's designs feature a Tinman whose costume smokes, a Dorothy inspired by Japanese Lolita fashion and a Glinda whose dress has been dyed with ice. "A slow process because of literally waiting for ice to melt," Workman explains, "but so very worth it."

On top of the 118 costumes fitted specifically to the show's 38 actors, the production features wigs designed by Brenau/GTA program alumna Alyssa Burton, and makeup designs by UNG student Hannah Humphrey.

"I am most excited to see the end result of this unique collaboration," says Workman. "[Burton and Humphrey] come into this production with lots of energy and original ideas." The wigs, makeup, and costumes combined present a unique challenge to the actors, who must find new and interesting ways to work with their attire.

"Emily [Whitley, the actress playing the Wicked Witch of the West] is phenomenal, in that she really gets into her costumes," says Workman. "She works them into her character instead of just wearing them."

The actors are especially excited by the costume and set designs. Taylor Sage Priday, a Brenau senior playing the role of Dorothy, gushed; "The technical elements are my favorite part, for sure! From the spinning stage, to the projections to the flying. So many of these elements are going to bring the magic of Oz to the stage. I'm so excited to see the audiences' reactions, as well as experience it for myself."

Despite a technically complex show, McKerley and her cast are focused on staying true to the heart of the story. "We are focused on what people want, what the stakes are, and what will happen if those wants and needs are not met," says McKerley. "Everyone in the show is looking for something which they feel will complete them. Maybe they actually have what they think they are looking for."

Even though regular tickets are sold out, GTA will open waiting lists for would-be patrons on Monday, Oct. 29. With the last three seasons sold between 96 and 98 percent, GTA has much experience with waiting lists and typically can seat 20-25 waiting list per performance.

Waiting list tickets, $18-28, can be purchased for performances that run Nov. 6-17thby calling the GTA Box Office from 10am to 4pm weekdays at 678-717-3624. Mastercard, Visa and Discover are accepted.

Photo credit: Simpson Custom Photography

Photo caption: Gainesville Theatre Alliance and Brenau students Rachel Finazzo (left) and Taylor Priday join UNG's Dellan Short as Aunt Em, Dorothy and Uncle Henry in Frank Baum's iconic American story "The Wizard of Oz," opening on Nov. 6 to sellout audiences.

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