Gene Johnson had never even heard of the play “The Wicked Witch of Oz,” but when he heard the story line, he knew the Lewis and Clark Theatre Company (LCTC) had to perform it.
The comedy will kick off the LCTC’s new season and will be presented June 13-18 at the Dakota Theatre in downtown Yankton.
Director Tara Gill calls the play a wonderful spin-off from the 1939 “Wizard of Oz” movie.
“To really get to see the witch's perspective if she was in our world today — how she would interact with society — would be really fun. It's so light-hearted and it's a great fun play. The kids are going to enjoy it,” she said.
Johnson is the assistant director of the production and said “The Wicked Witch of Oz” tells the story of high school kids who are putting on a production of “The Wizard of Oz” at their school.
“It's kind of a sequel to the classic ‘Wizard of Oz,’” he said. “The kids accidentally conjure up the real Wicked Witch of the West (Nichole Vetter) and she tries to get back to Oz, and she terrorizes the high school production while she's working on getting back.”
Johnson said because so many people love the original “Wizard of Oz” book and 1939 movie, and quite a few people like the modern twist of the musical “Wicked,” the summer production is great for all audiences.
“Some of the children who haven't experienced “The Wizard of Oz” yet may see something in it that might get them into it and get them to watch the movie for the first time,” Johnson said.
Lambertz pushed to do “The Wicked Witch of Oz” when the LCTC committee was deciding on which play to use for summer, he said.
“I promoted it because I thought it was a fun take-off on ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” he said. “It kind of puts it in a different light — trying to go from reality back into fantasy.”
Gill said rehearsals have been great so far, but it was a bit of a challenge to figure out the cast.
“We have a really good cast of 16 people,” Gill said. “I looked at the middle school and high school ages since the story is about high school kids, and then I had some adult roles for the principal, director, coach director, the witch and then the monkey. We have a pretty good mix. Yankton is definitely very blessed with talented teenagers, so that wasn't an issue at all.”
Although there are a few experienced actors in the production, Johnson said most of the actors are new to the theatre.
“It's been really neat to see some new faces on stage,” Johnson said. “It's also been a lot of fun to try and mold their characters and help them find their characters.”
The crew also had to overcome the amount of costume changes within the play, Gill said.
“It's been quite a challenge for costuming because there are so many costume changes,” Gill said. “At one point, the cast has really good costumes, then they have fake costumes and then they're in regular clothes. So coordinating that has been a little difficult.”
Performing a comedy is also something the cast had to get used to, Johnson said.
“Comedies are really tricky,” he said. “It may seem easy — just say the lines on the page — but a lot of putting a comedy together is timing. If you pause just the right way or if you give an expression just the right way, you can get a different reaction. It's been a challenge, but I think the jokes will work when we get to actually perform in front of an audience.”
The schedule for performances is completely different from past years.
Executive Director Chuck Lambertz said using the new schedule will be beneficial for the cast and crew as well as audience members.
“Everybody knows that time is becoming more and more difficult to arrange,” Lambertz said. “With the new schedule we're doing just as many performances, only we're doing them in an extended week.”
Gill said although it will take some time for the community to get used to, there really isn't a whole lot that goes on in the middle of the week during summer, which will allow people to come out to see the show.
“I'm hoping this gives people something to do during that time,” Gill said. “The new schedule is nice for the cast too because it's only a one weekend commitment.”
Cast and crew
Randy Fields as Nikko the Flying Monkey
Sue Fields as Mathilda Baum
Alex Fields as Jeff
Sara Slowey as Olivia Trout
Nichole Vetter as Hecubah (Wicked Witch)
Stacie Peitz as Mirabelle
Kayti Marlette as Lindsay
Kierra Schaffer as Buffy
Jessica Sahagun as Desi
Ben Holman as Oliver Trout
Nathan as Archie
R.J. Holman as Todd
Renee Hansen as Ellen
Olivia Hudson as Sissy
Samantha Kleinschmit as Glinda
Gabby Slowey as Trish
Gene Johnson, Assistant Director
Tara Gill, Director