The Savannah Ballet Theatre (SBT) will bookend its 21st season with an original ballet adaptation of the beloved children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
Celebrating the 80th anniversary of L. Frank Baum’s famous novel, SBT’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” on March 23 at The Lucas Theatre was designed and adapted from the book to draw in a broader audience.
“Ballet is an interesting art form,” Abby McCuen, SBT managing and education director, said. “The majority of the ballets are 200, 250 years old. We’re trying to attract a different audience. We want to make arts accessible for all people. A couple of years ago, we thought, let’s make some original ballet’s based on books.”
The SBT first performed their original adaptation in 2016 to a sold out crowd. This time around, they’ve made some upgrades to the show.
“We’ve become known in the region for using projected backdrops,” McCuen said. “We don’t use traditional backdrops. It’s cool. It adds the wow factor and brings the audience in. We upgraded those and have better costumes. We peppered in some movie moments, too.”
The original novel became one of the most well-known stories in American literature, receiving a number of adaptations since its publication in May of 1900.
A Broadway musical adaptation premiered in 1902, followed by the famous film in 1939 staring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale. Spin-offs, as well, have been popular through the decades. In 1978, Universal Pictures and Motown Productions released “The Wiz,” a reimagining of the original novel featuring an all-black cast staring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
In 1995, Gregory Maguire released his prequel novel, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” to high acclaim. The novel was later turned into the famous, award-winning Broadway musical “Wicked.”
The core story, however, has remained largely the same through the years and will so for SBT’s production. Dorothy, a young girl living with her aunt and uncle in Kansas, is swept away in a magical tornado to Munchkin country in the Land of Oz, where she makes friends with the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion. Through battles with witches, a disappointing reveal, and some deus ex machina magic, Dorothy learns the value of friendship and what we’re typically looking for is right in front of us.
The SBT is built on a mix of local dancers and visiting professionals who are chosen during spring auditions. The company has 13 professional dancers from all over the U.S. and one from Canada.
Andre McGregor, 16, a Savannah Arts Academy student has been with the company for two years. He will bring the Cowardly Lion to life in this production.
“I love the lion,” McGregor said. “He’s so funny. He’s scared of pretty much everything. It’s definitely fun to show that through movement. Just being scared. I rewatched 'The Wizard of Oz.' He was very jangly. He did certain things that I will interpret into the ballet.”
Without lines, SBT’s production of the story relies entirely on movement accented by costumes and set. The dance interpretation brings a new spin on a classic story with music curated by McCuen.
“We created this ballet because my children, who were toddlers at the time, were obsessed with it,” McCuen said. “You see it as a kid. To see it through their eyes, they were so excited. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recognized a lot of moments. It’s all ballet. It’s all set to music that moves the story along well.”
SBT will also hold a special performance of “The Wizard of Oz” for schools at 10 a.m. March 22 at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts. The cost is $5 per student, and teachers will be admitted for free. A coloring sheet and study guide will be included, offering an educational element. Students and teachers must RSVP for this performance by calling 912-897-2102.
They will also add a special feature to this production, a touch tour for people who are hearing or visually impaired. At 5:30 p.m. March 23, they will tour visually impaired patrons through the backstage and allow them to touch the costumes and hear descriptions of the production.
“For no cost, they can come back stage before the show and receive a tour of the theatre, touch the costumes, get a description of the projects,” McCuen said. “So they can experience it. We want to make it accessible for everyone. This is something that bigger company’s in bigger cities are doing. We’re ready to bring it to Savannah.”
Reservations for this special tour can be made by calling McCuen at 912-200-9406.