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Taylor Wesseln, who is starring as Dorothy Gale in the Prairie Fire stage production of “The Wizard of Oz,” aims to highlight the strength and independence of this beloved character from her childhood.
Wesseln, who last summer played Shakespeare’s Juliet in another Prairie Fire production, is home for the summer from St. Olaf’s College in Northfield, Minnesota, where she is studying piano performance with an emphasis on collaborative piano.
“The Wizard of Oz” opened at Yankton’s Dakota Theater this past weekend. Upcoming evening performances are set for July 25-27 at 7 p.m. with a matinee on July 28 at 2 p.m. being the final performance. Tickets may be purchased in advance at www.lewisandclarktheatre.org or on the Lewis & Clark theatre Company Facebook page. For more information, call the Dakota Theatre at 605-665-4711 and leave a message.
Wesseln, a 2018 graduate of Yankton High School, plays young Kansas girl Dorothy Gale, who, whisked to a magical land far away by a tornado, must find her way home. The production is based on the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland as Dorothy.
Recently, Wesseln took a few moments to talk to the Press & Dakotan about “The Wizard of Oz” production and her role as Dorothy.
What drew you to participate in this production?
Keith Goeden, Stacy Pietz and I last summer did (“Romeo and Juliet”) with this company, Prairie Fire Productions. This is our second go and I thought I would come back — it’s a musical, which is kind of my thing.
When you think of all the musicals you could possibly do, “Wizard of Oz” is just one of those staple classics. I mean, what little girl doesn’t want to play Dorothy growing up? I guess, I just grew up always singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which is all these childhood dreams and wants and desires. I’ve always wanted to do it. I loved the fantasy and the books. That was right up my alley. I would say that’s the big reason I was drawn to it. Keith asked me and we work well together. That’s part of it, too.
How is playing Dorothy different from watching her in the movie?
Well, learning all the lines. That’s a big difference: actually knowing what she says and going my own direction with the character. I looked up to Judy Garland a lot (Garland starred as Dorothy in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz,”), but I think my Dorothy is a little different and I’m glad I have this opportunity to explore that, because I just didn’t want to do the run-of-the-mill Dorothy that everyone knows form the movie.
Yes, there is still the essence of Dorothy that is still there, that I feel I stay true to, but Prairie Fire definitely allows a lot of creativity and exploration with their characters. Keith kind of encourages it, so this has been a wonderful opportunity to dive into those aspects that maybe one doesn’t think of when they think of Dorothy.
In what way is your portrayal of Dorothy different from Garland’s?
I think my Dorothy is a lot stronger and more independent — as independent as Dorothy can be. She is on this adventure; she got plopped (in Oz) out of the blue and she is just as determined at the beginning to get home as she is at the end. Even with falling in love with all of these characters, her friends, and her life in Oz, she still has that, “I need to be home and I’m going to get home.” I feel like I really bring out that determinations and that want.
Are there differences between the stage version of “The Wizard of Oz” and the movie version?
Yes. There are a couple of added songs and some characters and dialog. I would say that the new stuff flows. You might not think about it until later, like, “You know, I don’t really remember that in the movie.” We have really put together a show that just runs.
We also really play up the humor, because the script it really witty; it’s really fun.
What do you hope people will take away from seeing this production?
I hope people are entertained, but not in a way that they expect. Because, you come in, and there’s all these expectations with “The Wizard of Oz;” certain things have to be right. We stay true to that, but we also do our own thing.
I want people to walk away thinking, “Wow. That was a great production of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” but I also want them to think, “Oh, I never thought of doing it like that!”
Every single person in this cast has put their heart and soul into it and I am excited for people to see our hard work — because it has been work — but fun work.
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