Go over the rainbow with DAG’s family-friendly ‘Wizard of Oz’

Photo by Sue Suchyta The Downriver Actors Guild presents “The Wizard of Oz” with Larry Danaj (left) of Livonia as the Wizard of Oz and Taylor Charbonneau of Gibraltar as Dorothy Gale July 27 to Aug. 5 at the theater, 2656 Biddle, Wyandotte. For tickets or more information, call 734-407-7020 or go to downriveractorsguild.net.

Photo by Sue Suchyta
The Downriver Actors Guild presents “The Wizard of Oz” with Larry Danaj (left) of Livonia as the Wizard of Oz and Taylor Charbonneau of Gibraltar as Dorothy Gale July 27 to Aug. 5 at the theater, 2656 Biddle, Wyandotte. For tickets or more information, call 734-407-7020 or go to downriveractorsguild.net.

Travel over the rainbow with Dorothy and Toto, and leave Kansas behind, as the Downriver Actors Guild follows the yellow brick road in the family friendly musical “The Wizard of Oz.”

The show runs 7:30 p.m. July 27 and 28 and Aug. 3 and 4, and 3 p.m. July 29 and Aug. 5 at the Catherine A. Daly Theatre on the Avenue, 2656 Biddle Ave., Wyandotte.

Michael Gravame of Detroit directs the show, with Sarah Noble of Wyandotte as musical director and Kimmy Elliott of Canton Township as choreographer.

Gravame said “The Wizard of Oz” is his favorite movie musical, and the show that attracted him to live theater.

“When I was 4 years old, I was watching the movie, and when the Scarecrow started dancing around, I turned to my parents and said, ‘That is what I want to do,’” Gravame said. “I have been hooked ever since.”

Gravame said people relate to the show’s theme, characters and the emotional longing for home.

“My favorite line is when the the Wizard informs the Tinman, ‘And remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.’ I always get a bit teary-eyed when I hear it, and think of my late parents.”

Gravame said the costumes are spectacular, especially those worn by the Munchkins and Emerald City ensemble, and the cast is talented, enthusiastic and shares his love for Oz.

“It has been a fun way to spend the summer,” he said. “The crew has been working around the clock to bring L. Frank Baum’s story to life.”

Josh Bray of Brownstown Township, who plays the Scarecrow, said he brings his whimsical personality to the role.
“I’m very goofy and silly, and I like to have fun,” he said. “I really try to bring that to the role, because I feel that is really the embodiment of the scarecrow.”

Bryan Aue of Taylor, who plays the Tin Man, said he likes playing a classic character from a show that audiences know.

“It’s a lot of fun to play something that is so recognizable,” he said. “The movie has a special place in everyone’s heart, but seeing it live on stage, and seeing those characters come to life in front of your eyes is a magical thing.”

Aue said doing “The Wizard of Oz” before “Wicked” opens at the Detroit Opera House three days after they close offers audiences an interesting contrast.

“Stories are all about perspective, and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is Dorothy’s perspective,” he said. “‘Wicked’ is Elphaba’s, the Wicked Witch’s perspective. Sometimes it is interesting to see different perspectives and how we view people.

“It can extrapolate to the world. Somebody else’s perspective might not be evil – it’s just different.”

Aue said he is excited to be doing a show with his 5-year-old daughter Norah, who plays a Munchkin.

“Originally I auditioned for the show because I wanted to do a show that she could see me in and really enjoy,” he said. “But to do the show with her is a real treat.”

He said she takes her role more seriously than anyone in the cast.

“She’s 5 years old, and I have never seen such dedication from a young child,” he said. “The songs, the dances – she is very intent on doing them.”

Paul Primeau of Grosse Ile Township, who plays the Lion, said he enjoys playing his “over-the-top” character in a show he characterizes as a family classic.

“Being so frightened and scared of your own shadow kind of reminds me of me a little bit, because I can be afraid sometimes,” he said. “The lion is just over-the-top, and you can do so much with that character.”

Primeau said he is taking the precaution of wearing a cold vest under his warm costume, and he is keeping the iconic Jersey accent.

“We want to tribute to Bert Lahr as much as we can,” he said.

Larry Danaj of Livonia, who plays Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz, said he has “never played the title of a play before.”

“It’s a bit overwhelming, but we have a great cast,” he said. “I just have had a great time being here. It runs very true to the movie, but being live, it brings that aspect to it, which I am sure everybody will enjoy.”

Taylor Charbonneau of Gibraltar said playing Dorothy is a dream role for her.

“It is really surreal,” she said. “She is actually an inspirational character for me because she sees the world in brighter colors, and inspires me, too. I try to look at the world the way she sees it.”

Rachel Biber of Huntington Woods, who plays the Wicked Witch of the West, said her character is very different from Elphaba in “Wicked.”

“They are two very different characters,” she said. “L. Frank Baum did not picture Elphaba when he wrote this story. He pictured every little girl’s worst nightmare of a witch. I am wicked through and through.”

Biber said she will have succeeded if she gets booed at her curtain call.

She said she would love to play Elphaba someday, but the role of the Wicked Witch is iconic.

“It is so much fun to be the Wicked Witch of the West,” she said. “She’s really bad. I like to do at least one show a year that my kids can come see.”

Kellie Runkle of Allen Park plays Glinda, with Jane Ten Broeck of Ypsilanti as Auntie Em and Jim Wolbrink of Detroit as Uncle Henry.

Also in the ensemble are Nathan Barnhouse and Matt Van Houten of Allen Park; Calleigh Butler, Sydney Czopek and Parker Forgach of Brownstown Township; Audrey Hernandez of Dearborn; Christopher Gawel of Detroit; Julia Williams of Grosse Ile Township; Grace Ray, Alex Rosen, Jim Steele and Lily Steele of Lincoln Park; Jason Kolbusz and Dylan Seets of Riverview; Brigette Clements of Rockwood; Maks Kiss, Carly Serpetti and Danielle Weinkauf of Southgate; Kayla, Kaitlyn and James Aguila, Norah Aue, Blake Berringer and Micah Hindy of Taylor; Colleen Stanley of Trenton; Peyton Hudson Dowd of Westland; Atam Bedikian, Griffin Gardner, Grace Harper and Nathan Webb of Wyandotte; and Owen Ten Broeck of Ypsilanti.

Tickets are $16, with a $3 discount for seniors and students. To order, call 734-407-7020 or go to downriveractorsguild.net.