FALMOUTH – The last time Joan Baird directed ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was as a child in her basement “theater.”
“I was always the director, Dorothy and Glinda the Good Witch, while my three sisters played all the other parts,” she said.
This year is the 75th anniversary of the classic 1939 movie version of “The Wizard of Oz” starring Judy Garland, and Joan Baird, who lives in Mashpee, will not be playing Dorothy or Glinda, but she will be directing the Falmouth Theatre Guild production.
Baird began rehearsals on the show earlier this month and in interviews with cast members, one thing was clear. Everyone has their favorite scene from the movie, “The Wizard of Oz.”
All the leads in the show admitted to be big fans of the movie and said they intend to stay close to the film version of the show.
That is fine with Joan Baird.
“It is an iconic movie. I was looking for people who could come close to the movie. Audiences will undoubtedly be expecting the show to look like and sound like the movie. I will not be straying too far from those expectations,” she said.
At auditions earlier this month, 107 people turned out and Baird cast 59 of them in the show.
It is one of the largest theater guild casts in recent memory but Baird said she planned it that way.
“The great thing about having a large cast is it brings so much more texture to a show. It’s like making a salad. It takes many ingredients and many layers to make a good recipe,” she said.
In casting the iconic leading roles, Baird know what she was looking for, starting with Dorothy.
“I was looking for a Dorothy that exuded sincerity,” she said.
Enter Gracie Kennedy.
The 17-year-old, a senior at Bourne High School, is delighted to have the part.
“Wizard of Oz is a huge favorite for me. I have been watching it since I was about three and I have loved it every since. I used to say to my parents, ‘I want a flying monkey,’” Gracie said.
Gracie approached the auditions with an open mind, planning to try out for Dorothy but also open to being in the chorus. Before the audition, by way of preparation, she took a run, warmed up her voice, practiced ‘Over the Rainbow’, drank some tea and was off to see the Wizard.
When all was said and done and she got the role of Dorothy, Gracie said she was over the moon.
Her parents, Tricia and Tom Kennedy of Sagamore Beach, said they heard their daughter scream when she found out she got the part. Her response to Baird’s call asking her to be Dorothy may have also been heard by the neighbors, Gracie joked.
“I started jumping up and down and crying and I just said thank you a million times,” she said.
Gracie attended a theater program at Carnegie Mellon this summer so she intends to bring some of what she learned about character motivation to the role, in addition to, of course, modeling Judy Garland’s interpretation.
As for the Wicked Witch of the West, Baird said the actress she chose, Danielle Geleheter of New Bedford, came to the audition well prepared.
“I loved her stage presence and her absolute control over her speaking voice,” Baird said. “When she said the line, ‘poison, poison,’ I knew she was the person to play the Wicked Wtich.
Geleheter said she did in fact come prepared, having printed out parts of the script and practiced reading some of the lines “trying different variations on voice and delivery.”
She said the movie is one of her all-time favorites. “When I was growing up, it was shown as a special event once a year. My sisters and I would get very excited by this and we’d watch it every year,” she said.
She agreed that when playing such an iconic character, you have to take inspiration from the source material. “You can’t deviate too far from Margaret Hamilton because that portrayal has become intrinsic to what the character is,” she said. But she continued, “You also don’t want to get locked into complete imitation because that will potentially stifle the creative spark that brings the character to life.”
So she is taking the middle ground. Expect her portrayal to, as she put it, “evoke” Margaret Hamilton but she plans to “bring something of my own into it.”
On the other side of the spectrum is Glinda the Good Witch. Again, Baird knew what she was looking for.
“I was looking for a Glinda that looked and sounded like cotton candy,” Baird said.
Jennifer Perrault of Falmouth, who got the part, said that ever since she knew the theatre guild was putting the show on, she has been telling people, “I want to fly in a bubble!”
Perrault, a kindergarten teacher with strawberry blonde hair and a ready smile, said friends are not surprised she got cast in the role. But, she defended the role against detractors who might call it fluffy.
“It takes effort to be sweet and likeable, glittery and good,” she said. She pointed out that in addition to being wise and good, Glinda’s got “gumption.” She also plans to add her own charms to the character of Glinda.
Perrault said she watched the movie last week for the first time since she was a child. That’s not counting the time she watched it in high school synched to the Pink Floyd soundtrack “Dark Side of the Moon.”
“If you put the CD on at the lion’s third roar, there is an amazing synchronicity to the film and the music,” she said.
Perrault may have her best friend in the show too. Her little dog, Oakley, is trying out for Toto.
Casting the trio who accompany Dorothy to Oz, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, was tricky for Baird.
“We had many combinations of the three during callbacks. It was a very difficult decision and we could have cast it several different ways. but these three fell into place before the night was over.”
For the Cowardly Lion, she cast Brian Buczkowski of Teaticket who came in with the Brooklyn drawl of Bert Lahr’s famous portrayal in the movie. “He was absolutely spot on,” she said.
Buczkowski said he went into the audition ready to mimic. “I did my best to imitate Bert Lahr’s voice, mannerisms and movements from the film,” he said.
And he intends to stay faithful to Lahr portrayal. “The lion may be a scaredy-cat, but he is also a huge ham. There is no shortage of opportunities to play it up and have fun with this role,” Buczkowski said.
He said the film has always been one of his favorites. Besides the Lion, Buczkowski had high praise for the Wizard. “He’s a bit of a shyster, full of pomp and bombast, but deep down, both in Kansas and Oz, he is a simple man with a big heart.”
For the scarecrow, Baird said she chose Keirnan McDermott of Centerville for his acting chops, singing ability, “and when he danced and moved, his agility was amazing.”
McDermott said he arrived to the audition planning to try out for the Lion. But family and friends urged him to try out for the Scarecrow. “Hopefully that’s because of my goofy attitude, and not my lack of . . . what’s that word . . . umm . . . intelligence?” he said, taking to the role already.
He said he is looking forward to the physical demands, what he called, “the rag doll aspect of the character, the lack of balance in everything he does.”
He said the ‘Wizard of Oz’ is one of those shows where people come to it expecting the movie and if you stray too far from it, people get confused.
“So, yes, I’m going to stay very close to the movie, while still adding a little bit of myself to the character,” he said.
His favorite scene is the one where the Wizard is giving out the awards. “It shows how much of a con man he really is.”
Baird gave the part of the Tin Man to Jason Hansen, who has the added distinction of having three of his four children in the show as munchkins.
Baird said what she was looking for was “a gentler soul” and she said Hansen’s tall stature and smooth singing voice captured what she was looking for in a Tin Man.
Hansen, who lives in East Falmouth, said when his kids found out he got cast as Tin Man, they joked about how he doesn’t have a heart. They were hoping he would be cast as the Scarecrow, so they could joke about his lack of brains, Hansen said.
Hansen said he grew up watching the “Oz” movie and his father used to sing the songs around the house. He went to the audition planning to try out for the Scarecrow and Tin Man.
As for his portrayal, he said he plans to show the Tin Man’s sensitive side. Just what the director ordered.
For the dual role of the Wizard of Oz and Professor Marvel, Baird chose Bobby Price of Osterville, who played the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar among other community theater roles.
Baird said she saw him in “Noises Off” recently and was impressed by his comic ability.
At the “Oz” audition, he had the suitable booming voice of the Wizard and he played the professor in the right flustered and confused way. “Just what I wanted to hear,” Baird said.
Price, another huge fan of the film, came to the audition ready to try out for the Scarecrow or the Tin Man. But he said he intends to have fun with, what he calls, “the title character.”
He said he also intends to stay faithful to the movie and he explained why.
Price summed it up, “‘The Wizard of Oz’ is one of those movies that is loaded on the hard drive in everyone’s brain and if things go to differently, you start to get taken out of that theater mindset and start to wonder where are they going with this.
“Don’t fix it if it’s not broken.”
Auditions for Toto are being held Sunday, September 28 at 2:30 at Highfield Theater in Falmouth. The Falmouth Theatre Guild’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” is showing November 7 to 23 at Highfield Theater in Falmouth. Tickets are on sale now at falmouththeatreguild.org.
– Laura M. Reckford