The Wizard of Oz

Cast of "The Wizard of Oz": Whitney Brooks plays Dorothy, Jacob Mangrum plays the Lion, Michael Locke plays the Tin Man and Jim Altman plays the Scarecrow.

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Munchkins skedaddled every which-a-way on the second floor of Theatre Bristol’s building Sunday afternoon. 

Crayola-colored costumes of purple to green and yellow hanged on pegs in a side room. In a room opposite, stray straw from a costume tickled that of a furry lion.

“It’s not fake,” said Jacob Mangrum, 28, of his prodigiously long and real beard. Moments later, Mangrum wore a headpiece, that of the Lion — as he was off to see the Wizard. “This is my first show.”

Theatre Bristol presents “The Wizard of Oz” from June 21 through June 30 at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tennessee. Opening night heralds “Ruby Slipper Gala,” which precedes the show at 6 p.m. A fundraiser to benefit Bristol’s community theater, Theatre Bristol, the gala includes cocktails and food courtesy CJ Company and Catering.

“People will forget that they are watching a play,” said Kenn Naegele, 69, director of Theatre Bristol’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

“It will draw them into it. It’s got a lot of heart in it.”

Sunday’s rehearsal witnessed the play performed in full and chronological order. But for a few pieces and props — Scarecrow’s headpiece, the Wicked Witch of the West’s broom, etc., costumes and set pieces were not employed.

Downstairs, diligent workers constructed the show’s elaborate sets. Amid a maze of structures, several 16-foot walls, painted green and bound for Oz at the Paramount, thrust ceiling-ward.

“This is the largest, most-complicated show that we’ve ever done,” said Samantha Gray, the show’s producer. “There’s pyrotechnics. Lots of visual effects. Kids. Dogs.”

A cast of more than 70 actors found their spots on a soundstage upstairs at Theatre Bristol on Sunday.

“He’s not human,” said Jim Altman, 19, of his character, Scarecrow. “He’s not like any other person I’ve played. I have to be dumb but say smart things and not even realize it.”

Naegele, Gray and Camille Gray, choreographer and costumer, sat behind a pair of tables along a far wall. Posters of past Theatre Bristol productions including “Les Miserables” and “Annie” lined the wall opposite.

Hubbub suddenly silenced, action began upon Naegele’s direction.

“Toto! Toto!” said Whitney Brooks as Dorothy Gale, the lead role in “The Wizard of Oz.” Brooks carried a basket, which soon contained Theo, the real dog that plays Toto.

“This whole scene is in black and white,” Samantha Gray whispered as the scene played out. “Their costumes are in black and white. Dorothy is in a black and white checked dress.”

Drama escalates quickly in “The Wizard of Oz,” which mostly follows the classic movie from 1939. Video effects depict the twister that transports Dorothy and her family’s farmhouse skyward from Kansas and into an enchanted land of fantasy.

Soon thereafter, the Wicked Witch of the West enters the show’s fray. Captivatingly portrayed by Mary Beth Rainero, the witch makes her presence known in a flurry of nefarious mannerisms and evocative facial expressions.

“You just wait,” Samantha Gray said of Rainero, “She’s good!”

“The Wizard of Oz” unfurled in its entirety Sunday as if for an audience. Actors read their lines crisply. Munchkins charmed, Winkies marched, Jitterbugs jitterbugged, Poppies blossomed, Flying Monkeys tormented.

Entertainment, as florid as the yellow brick road, encompassed the soundstage. Drama palpitated. Hearts beat faster, hopes soared high. In the end, a gingham bow of delight wrapped Theatre Bristol’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

“This gives me chills every time,” Naegele said as the play’s penultimate scene began. “Especially at the end when Dorothy says, ‘there’s no place like home.’”

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Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at

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