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Theatre Factory also taking a walk on the 'Oz' side

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 1:15 p.m.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
(from left) Mary Kate McCarthy, 10, of Murrysville, Grace Bender, 12, of Harrison City and Victoria Pearl, 12, of Murrysville, rehearse for the Theatre Factory's 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' at the Trafford venue on Monday, March 11, 2013.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Victoria Pearl, 12, of Murrysville, rehearses for the Theatre Factory's 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' at the Trafford venue on Monday, March 11, 2013.

On a weekend that offers a prequel to the 1939 film classic on area movie screens and an orchestral arrangement and screening at Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concerts, Theatre Factory joins “Munchkin mania” with the opening of its adaptation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Like the other cultural offerings, the Theatre Factory KidWorks production is based on the 1900 book by L. Frank Baum. But in this stage version, playwright V. Glasgow Koste tells the story from the viewpoint of the author (portrayed by Michael Byrne), who serves as the narrator.

“I think it's special because it's so theatrical,” says director David Little. “It doesn't rely on spectacle to tell its story. It allows the audience to fill in all of the specific details of the story with their imagination.”

Little returns to Theatre Factory to direct this production after having worked on shows in other states. He most recently directed “A Christmas Carol” in Fayetteville, N.C., at the Gilbert Theatre and the opera “La Boheme” in Twin Lake, Mich., for Blue Lake Opera. He previously served as artistic director at Theatre Factory and directed “Harvey” at the Trafford community theater in 2011.

He has a personal reason for wanting to direct this production.

“I have a special connection with ‘The Wizard of Oz,' since all of the original L. Frank Baum books were read out loud to me as a child by my mom,” he says. “This version is much closer to the original book than it is to the Judy Garland movie. But the basic story is still the same.”

All of the familiar “Oz” characters are in the cast. Among the actors that Little is directing is his sister, Alissa Little, who portrays the Witch of the North.

“This is actually the third time I have been in a show he has directed,” Alissa says. “I love being involved in his shows.”

Other families sharing credits in this production are Michael Byrne (narrator and Wizard of Oz) and his two sons, Michael Byrne V as the Tin Woodman and Stephen Byrne as one of the Winkies/Munchkins; John McCarthy as Uncle Henry/Guard and his daughter, Mary Cate McCarthy as Toto; and sisters Grace Bender as Dorothy and Amelia Bender as a Winkie.

The cast also features Carrie Lee Martz (Witch of the West), Dotty Weisberg (Aunt Em/Glinda), Victoria Perl (Scarecrow), Dominic Raymond (Cowardly Lion) and Jacob Capets, Carleigh Drakulic, Maura Marston, Natalie Norman, Mason Servello and Savannah Simeone as Winkies.

Although “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is part of Theatre Factory's children's schedule of shows, Alissa Little says grownups will enjoy it, too.

“It allows the audience to use their imagination in so many ways,” she says.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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