Toto is not in Kansas anymore. Dorothy's little dog from "The Wizard of Oz" will be center stage at the Music Circus Wells Fargo Pavilion for the next 10 days as the company opens its 2013 summer season.
Artistic director Glenn Casale, who directs this production, is starting out with the season's most ambitious show.
There will be flying monkeys, a flying Wicked Witch, 20 local kids from the Music Circus Junior Company as Munchkins and, of course, the cute little dog.
Casale said he put "Oz" at the beginning of the schedule to give himself and the production enough time to bring the numerous elements together.
"It's easier to do it at the beginning of the year because it's so complicated," Casale said during a rehearsal lunch break.
As always, the veteran Casale brings an infectious enthusiasm and energy to the project.
"People say to me, 'You must of done "Oz" a hundred times,' " Casale said, explaining that he's never directed the musical. "I played a Winkie (one of the Wicked Witch's guards) in college. That was it."
Casale is primarily using a script developed for a 1988 Royal Shakespeare Company production, which goes back to the original book by L. Frank Baum. The music and lyrics are by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg.
Casale has assembled a first-rate group of collaborators for this "Oz." The include leading Broadway flight choreographer Paul Rubin ("Wicked," "Peter Pan," "The Pirate Queen.") to stage the flying sequences, and dog trainer extraordinaire Bill Berloni, who has trained canines for numerous Broadway shows including the current "Annie," "A Christmas Story" and "Legally Blonde."
"I think the story of 'Wizard of Oz' is what's key. That's what makes us watch that movie every year," Casale said.
"It's a story about home, it's a story about the heart and even with all the special effects and everything we put on it, it's a real simple story that we're telling," Casale said.
"So we're not focusing on all of the tricks, which I think can easily happen."
Casale likes the script's subtle details, which are different from the movie and add a certain depth to the production.
"In the RSC version, Glinda looks at Dorothy, who's wearing a blue-checkered dress, and says, 'Well, the Munchkins' favorite color is blue,' That's not going to add a lot to what we know, but it does add texture to what came before," Casale said.
The immense popularity of the prequel "Wicked" also gives this "Oz" another dimension.
"It gives us back story, which we didn't have before," Casale said. The relationship between Glinda and the Wicked Witch has a new tone.
"They've only got a couple of exchanges in this version, but now that has to be weighted by the previous history," Casale said.
"Not only that, we know where the monkeys come from. We know the monkeys have been manufactured by the witch, and it's a painful experience, and they are slaves to the witch."
After getting "Oz" ready, Casale is to jump right into "Show Boat." The groundbreaking 1927 dramatic musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein centers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River showboat, from 1887 to 1927, telling the intersecting stories of numerous people associated with the boat.
"It's the 40-year story about Magnolia (a mixed-race singer, one of the central characters), and the struggle with prejudice at a time when prejudice was strong and drove people out of towns and away from the Mississippi," Casale said.
"I think 'Show Boat' is a story we have to keep telling."
THE WIZARD OF OZ
Where: Music Circus, the Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St., Sacramento.
When: 8 p.m. today; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and June 30; 8 p.m. next Friday; and 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday and June 29.
"The Wizard of Oz": Today-June 30
"Show Boat": July 9-14
"Sugar": July 23-28
"The King and I": Aug. 6-11
"Chicago": Aug. 20-29
"Show Boat," "Sugar" and "The King and I" will run for nearly one week, with eight performances. The other two shows have extended runs, with 13 performances for "The Wizard of Oz" and 12 performances for "Chicago."
Call The Bee's Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.