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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wisconsin Oz

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According to legend, the first-ever network radio adaptation of the Wizard of Oz was produced in Milwaukee in 1933, roughly six years prior to the release of the classic MGM musical. No recordings exist of this 1933 version, a kids' program sponsored by Jell-O, but the story goes that the WTMJ-produced NBC serial from the Wisconsin Hybrid Theatregolden age of radio was closer to Frank Baum's original book than the MGM film. This month, the (WHT) brings the spirit of live radio back to Milwaukee with its staged radio adaptation of Baum's tale at the Alchemist Theatre May 10 and 17.

Unlike the 1933 radio version, WHT's adaptation will depart from the original book. Here, Dorothy is from Oshkosh, Wis., and instead of traveling through Oz with a dog named Toto, her four-legged companion is a cow named Imogene. Contrary to what one might think, however, the cow isn't a new twist. According to the show's author, Charles Sommers, the cow originated in a 1902 stage adaptation.

"We have fun with the story that everyone already knows, but this isn't a parody," Sommers says. "It's the same story, told in a new way."

And while WHT's production isn't going out over the airwaves, the idea is to bring the feeling of live radio to a tiny stage packed with an audience on a Sunday afternoon. The performance will convey a layered story about a group of contemporary actors playing golden-age actors performing a radio adaptation of a classic story.

The cast includes square-jawed Randall Anderson as actor Jack Farwell, singer/songwriter Rachelravenlilysophia as actress Lorilyn Layton and author Charles Sommers as radio musician Chris Knapp-a man capable of playing the melodramatic early-20th-century radio tones of both the violin and accordion almost at the same time.

Also this weekend: Theatre Gigante presents an all-new production, Man in a Magic Square. Created by Gigante's Isabelle Kralj, Magic Square is based on the writings of Mark Anderson and Sre%u010Dko Kosovel. The show is described as words, music and dance "in a pile all lit up." Theatre Gigante is no stranger to interesting performances, so there's little doubt this production will live up to the tradition. Runs May 8.-9 at the Off-Broadway Theatre.

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