For fans of the Judy Garland movie, the national touring production of “The Wizard of Oz” coming to Olympia on Saturday will look pretty familiar.
“It’s the Royal Shakespeare Co.’s adaptation of the film,” said Kate Bristol, who is playing Dorothy in the production. “It’s kind of the movie plus.”
Or as Neil Genzlinger put it in a 2009 New York Times review: “This is a production that registers best with the 10-and-under crowd, kids who may have seen the movie but haven’t memorized it.”
There are a few differences. One is the show includes at least one scene that was written for but cut from the 1939 film. “The Jitterbug” is a dance number in which Dorothy and her Oz-bound friends dance till they drop, a side effect of being bitten by, yes, jitterbugs.
Another difference is Dorothy.
“I’m a geeky Dorothy,” said Bristol of New York City. “I’m very nervous and spastic as opposed to Judy being dignified and regal.”
There are a lot of expectations attached to playing a role that many people have learned by heart through countless viewings of the film.
“The problem is that people either expect me to imitate Judy Garland, or accuse me of imitating Judy Garland,” said Bristol, a junior studying theater at Pace College. “I’ve tried to make it my own, but the character is very Judy. And I look a lot like her, people say.”
The actress is approaching the role as she would any other.
“My acting approach is about the thought process,” she said. “On stage, I’m thinking, ‘What would they be thinking in this very second?’ and I think that.
“If I’m seeing Munchkins for the first time, what am I thinking?”
One big difference between the movie and stage show is the difficulty of showing the magic of the land of Oz, created by L. Frank Baum in his 1900 book.
“It’s so phantasmagorical,” Bristol said. “We have pyrotechnic effects and fog machines and snow machines. It’s almost like magic tricks that we do on stage to make the magic of Oz happen.”
There’s a tornado. There are flying characters. And the Wicked Witch is armed with fireballs.
One simple but striking effect replicates the film’s famous transition from the black-and-white world of Kansas to the Technicolor Oz.
“If you look at the movie, it’s not totally black and white; it’s kind of sepia,” the actress said. “In the Kansas scenes, everything is in brown towns, and with the light it gives the effect that it’s black and white. When Dorothy goes to Munchkinland, it’s a striking change because everything is very colorful, and I’m in a blue dress instead of a brown dress.”
Like many Americans, Bristol grew up with the film, and this is also her third time acting in a stage version. In elementary school, she played the Wicked Witch one year and Dorothy the next.
“I really wanted to be the Wicked Witch the first year,” she said. “I thought it was really fun. I wanted to be green.”