Oz brought to life in Box in the Wood musical

Classic 1900 tale to be performed in Shawano
By: 
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

A classic Midwestern story has arrived at the Mielke Arts Center and will be checking off all the boxes — tornadic activity, proving you can go home again, a country girl journeying to the big city and, most of all, an epic battle over shoes.

Box in the Wood Theatre Guild will perform “The Wizard of Oz” for the next two weekends, bringing to life a musical made familiar to all generations, whether it was a family tradition to watch on television on Thanksgiving night or owned on DVD or Blu-Ray to rewatch again and again on a random schedule.

The classic tale written in 1900 by L. Frank Baum has been performed in a variety of venues in northeast Wisconsin, but this will be Box in the Wood’s first time tackling the show about a farm girl from Kansas being whisked away to the magical land of Oz and then having to take the long journey to find her way home again. The Shawano County Arts Council, which oversees Box in the Wood, did have”The Wizard of Oz” performed as part of a children’s workshop in 2015, but that was done separately from the local performance group.

Director Brandon Byng has overseen the musical with other troupes, which is helpful as he brings the story to life in Shawano.

“They were looking for something that would involve both adults and kids,” Byng said as he explained the primary motivation for making “The Wizard of Oz” Box in the Wood’s summer musical for 2024. “They’re always trying to get younger actors involved, but sometimes there’s not a lot of shows that incorporate that.”

Having a show with a known name doesn’t hurt, either, according to Byng, as the land of Oz tends to bring more people out due to all generations having a familiarity with the story since the film hit theaters in 1939.

The musical takes almost all of its source material from the original film, especially in the songs performed. This includes “The Jitterbug,” a song that was supposed to be part of the movie but wound up on the cutting room floor.

“The few differences are how it translates from movie to stage,” Byng said. “You have to do things a little different. We do what we can. It’ll feel like the movie, but in a different way, so you get a little fresh take on it.”

Also kept in the musical was how the various farm hands portrayed the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, as well as how the Wicked Witch of the West was a manifestation of the mean Miss Gulch. Byng noted that the musical takes things a little further, however, with Auntie Em doubling as Glinda and Uncle Henry also serving as the head guard at the Emerald City.

“More of the people from Kansas wind up having dopplegangers in Oz,” Byng said.

There will be some visual effects in the Box in the Wood’s version. Among them is the image of a fireball when the Wicked Witch attacks the Scarecrow, Byng said, as well as the image of the Yellow Brick Road itself.

“They wouldn’t let us paint the floor or anything, so we had to get creative with that,” Byng said. “We’re also using projected scenery so we don’t have to move the walls or anything. We’re just using images show where we are. It kind of keeps the show moving, too.”

The projected images are a first at the Mielke, according to Byng, and they will also include, just like the film, one of the monstrous head that Dorothy and her friends see when they enter the wizard’s chamber.

“We have an animation, and it’s actually pretty scary,” Byng said. “My goal is to make at least one kid pee his pants, either over the wizard or the witch.”


AT A GLANCE

WHAT: “The Wizard of Oz”

WHEN: 7 p.m. July 11-13, July 18-20; 2 p.m. July 14, July 21

WHERE: Mielke Arts Center, N5649 Airport Road, Shawano

ADMISSION: $15 adults, $10 youth


lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com