By the time Perry Como came crooning along — telling the world that when it comes to the holidays, there’s no place like home — he was already 15 years too late.
He’d been beaten to the discovery by a girl from Kansas.
And her little dog, too.
“The Wizard of Oz” (1939), widely considered one of the greatest films of all time (itself an adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which ultimately spawned, by voracious and vocal popular demand, 13 sequels) is a cultural touchstone spanning generations. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture (ironically, it lost to “Gone with the Wind,” the film which Oz’s primary director, Victor Fleming, had left production early to take over when it began to flounder). It did win in two other categories, though: Best Original Song, for “Over the Rainbow,” and Best Original Score, by Herbert Stothar.
A stage adaptation was inevitable, and though there were several, it was the 1987 production by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company, which adheres more closely to the film than previous versions, which eventually became the standard, a fresh revival of which is coming to the Bainbridge Performing Arts stage in December.
The island show is directed by Buddy Todd, in his BPA debut, who most recently helmed “Charlotte’s Web” with Second Story Theatre and “Last Fall” with Fantastic Z.
Also making her first BPA appearance as part of this production is choreographer Angela Snyder.
They are joined by returning BPA Theatre School instructor, musical director Reece Sauvé.
Todd said staging a new production of such iconic material was exciting and daunting in equal measure.
“I recognize that it is so embedded in the American consciousness,” He said. “In a lot of ways it’s sort of the first real American fairy tale. So on one hand, I felt like it’s very important that when it comes to certain moments or certain iconographic elements, there is that expectation for the show to deliver.
“But I also feel like if people wanted to see the movie then they could just go see the movie. If you want to see a live performance that is inspired by and in some ways lifted from the movie, then we need to give them something that is unique and a little more.”
BPA’s Dorothy is Emily Fox, who leads a troup of newcomers and familiar faces alike.
The main cast includes Matty McCaslin (Cowardly Lion/Zeke), Shane Patrick Hoffmann (Scarecrow/Hunk), Jon Payne (Tinman/Hickory), Grace Helmcke (Autie Em/Glinda), Christine Salo (Almira Gulch/Wicked Witch), Peter Simpson (Prof. Marvel/The Wizard of Oz), Sammy Orrey (Uncle Henry), and an ensemble that includes Renee Messinger, Corrie Yadon, Jordyn Carrillo, Karen Bertram, Carter Wolff, Austin Smith, Brearley-Jayne Curfman, Keira Bertram, Gracie Payne, Rose Weaver, Dolly Courtway, Olivia Opalski, Cate Shelton, Kayla Cortes and Addie Beerman.
“Everybody’s working so hard and I couldn’t be more pleased,” Todd said. “Theater to me is the ultimate collaborative art form.
“I do rely really heavily on my actors to work on their own, make choices that they will then bring to rehearsal.”
Emily is slightly older than Dorothy in the books and younger than Judy Garland, which the director said was most definitely intentional.
“I specifically wanted to make Dorothy younger for a couple of reasons,” he said. “I wanted ‘The Wizard of Oz’ that we do to be a fresh look at that story and I wanted the audience to really feel like Dorothy is a little girl lost. She doesn’t have the resources that even a 16-year-old has.
“I really wanted the audience to see she is kind of outmatched by this world, and if she wants to survive and find her way home, she’s got a lot of growing up to do,” he added. “I think people are going to be really pleased to see her performance.”
Yet another BPA debut is being made in this show: the canine thespian portraying Toto is new to the stage, actually the pet of a cast member.
It was not, Todd said, his first time on stage with animal, though it is the first time he’s directed one.
“I basically treat Toto like he’s a really, really, really young cast member,” Todd said. “When he’s not being used he’s in a corner that he’s very familiar with, his owner is also his backstage handler. So if he finds himself in some shenanigans onstage that maybe start to make him feel a little weird, he immediately gets to go back to his owner and sort of get that comforting sensation.
“He seems to be up for it,” Todd added. “Every time we do a run through he gets a little more solid. And he’s adorable; he’s an adorable dog.”
Though the show includes some material not in the film — the famously cut “Jitterbug” scene, for one — Todd said his production is essentially a more character-focused take on the tale.
“It always come down to the question: What is the heart of the story?” he said. “Every role needs to be approached on its own terms. I’ve made it really clear to my cast, even when it comes to some of the more villainous characters … we never are to comment on them or judge them. It’s really important that we see that each actor really is thinking the thoughts of the character rather than thinking the thoughts of the audience.”
Todd said, “The chance to sort of tell that story and recreate a lot of those iconic visuals and moments that audiences have come to expect, but also to be able to strip the story down and get to the core of what really is the story and have an opportunity to focus on aspects of the story that are really important to me.”
The show includes both evening and matinee productions: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, starting Friday, Dec. 7 through Saturday, Dec. 22 (the Dec. 22 show begins early, at 2 p.m.), with a special 7:30 p.m. show Thursday, Dec. 20.
There will be a special pay-what-you-can preview at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6 and an opening night reception at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7.
Tickets, $29 for adults, $24 for seniors, students, youth, military, and teachers, may be purchased online at www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org, by phone at 206-842-8569, or in person at BPA (200 Madison Ave. North)
BPA box office hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and one hour prior to each performance.