If Kate Starczewski never steps on stage again — and let’s hope that doesn’t happen — at least she’ll have performed the role that she was born to play.
“When I was younger, I went through my Dorothy phase, and there were days when I didn’t even respond to being called Kate,” said Starczewski, who plays Dorothy in the nonmusical version of “The Wizard of Oz,” opening Friday at the Spa Little Theater in Saratoga State Park.
“I had to wear a blue dress, and I would only respond to Dorothy. Sometimes I told my father that he may or may not have to sleep at the end of my bed like Toto did. I was always in love with ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ ”
Starczewski grew up on the 1939 Hollywood film version of Frank Baum’s classic story, with Judy Garland as the girl who, along with her dog Toto, gets swept away from her home in Kansas to a magical world with places named Munchkin Land and the Land of Oz. The Home Made Theater production runs through Dec. 16 and also stars John Noble as the Wizard. Toni Anderson-Sommo is directing.
‘The Wizard of Oz’
a production of Home Made Theater
WHERE: Spa Little Theater, Saratoga State Park
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14, 1 and 4:30 p.m. Dec. 15, and 1 p.m. Dec. 16
HOW MUCH: $18-$12
MORE INFO: 587-4427, www.homemadetheater.org
Close to original book
This version of the book Baum wrote in 1900, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” (he also wrote 13 sequels) was adapted for the stage in 1928 by Elizabeth Fuller Chapman. While the movie script did a pretty good job of honoring Baum’s story, Chapman’s adaptation was even closer to the original work.
“Most people are familiar with the movie, and this play is pretty similar,” said Starczewski, a 2005 graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. “There are a few things that are different, and while the play is even truer to the book, people will recognize what they’re watching.”
They’ll also recognize the main character in her iconic blue and white dress even though Starczewski, 25, is a bit older than the teenage Dorothy.
“Oh, she’s going to play very well as Dorothy,” Noble said. “She looks quite nice in that gingham dress, so she’s going to be great. She can play younger very well.”
Anderson-Sommo agreed with Noble’s assessment.
“Kate has this certain wistfulness and charm to her,” said Anderson-Sommo, a South Glens Falls native and a high-school English teacher at Hudson Falls. “When she levels those big brown eyes at you and talks about how there’s no place like home, the audience will melt. I can’t help but believe she was made to play this role.”
Classes at HMT
Starczewski first got involved in theater as a young girl by taking classes offered by Home Made Theater. She performed in plays throughout her days at Saratoga Springs High School and Geneseo College, where she majored in studio art. Since graduating from Geneseo she has been working at Home Made Theater as the group’s office manager.
“I liked drawing and painting, but I remained very active in the theater throughout high school and college,” she said. “I actually started volunteering at Home Made in 2000, and while I did some shows when I was younger, I became more involved in the behind-the-scenes aspect of the business.”
While she served as stage manager for Home Made’s production of “A Christmas Carol” in December of 2009, she hadn’t been on stage performing since her early college days.
“I actually did more stage managing,” she said. “The stage manager at Geneseo asked me if I’d be his assistant on one of the shows, and at the time I really didn’t know what that meant. I loved it, but it was like, ‘This is the last time I do that.’ But when you do it four or five times it gets a little easier. Each show has its problems. You just have to work it out.”
Performing on stage, however, is also something she looks forward to doing in the future.
“Well, this is such a big role, but I am enjoying being back on stage,” she said. “It gets a little difficult when I work here all day and then have to catch a quick breather and then come back for rehearsal. But I wouldn’t have signed up if I didn’t love being on stage.”
Joining Starczewski and Noble on stage are Caroline Whitaker as Toto, Conrad Browne Lorcher as Scarecrow, Alan Edstrom as Tin Woodman, Pat Leathem as the Lion, Emily Farnham Mastrianni as the Witch of the South, Gloria Ford as the Wicked Witch of the West and Cristina DiCarlo as Glinda.
Noble’s appearance as the Wizard will be his first at Home Made. One of the Capital Region’s top character actors, he has performed as Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Cohoes Music Hall, Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse, and Norman Thayer and Da in “On Golden Pond” and “Da,” respectively at Curtain Call.
“This is my first time with Home Made, but I’ve been to their shows and I’ve always liked the space there, the theater,” said Noble, who lives in Colonie. “I thought it’d be fun to play the Wizard, that Frank Morgan [as the Wizard] part has always been a favorite of mine, and I thought it’d be a good opportunity for my grandchildren to come watch the show.”
‘Little Shop of Horrors’
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Dec. 13-15 and 2 p.m. Dec. 16
HOW MUCH: $28-$18
MORE INFO: 877-350-7378, www.sloctheater.org
‘Horrors’ in Schenectady
Also opening this weekend is a Schenectady Light Opera Company production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” featuring some of the top high-school acting talent in the Capital Region. A comedy horror rock musical written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the play is about a florist shop worker who raises a plant that feeds on human blood and flesh. It is being offered as SLOC’s “junior” production of the season, and is being directed by Sev Moro.
“I was in a production at the Vermont Stage Festival back in the early ’90s, and as an actor I liked the fact that you’re playing characters that give you a real opportunity to stretch and play outside the box,” said Moro. “I also like the old ‘B’ movie style of the play, and obviously the music of Alan Menken is just fantastic.”
Colonie High student Steven McCauley plays the lead character, Seymour, and the female lead, Audrey, is played by Allie Mantica from the Academy of Holy Names in Albany. According to Moro, working with teenagers in the theater is not at all daunting.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “These kids are fearless, and they’re not afraid to try different things and go outside the box. I’ve worked with all ages and adults tend to be more reserved. Kids don’t care. They’ll just go for it, and you need that in a production like this.”
Moro made one cast change in the script, changing the character Mr. Mushnick to Mrs. Mushnick, who will be played by Niskayuna High’s Sarah Beitch.
“Quite a few different high schools were represented in our audition, and we found 20 kids that were very talented and versatile,” said Moro. “We changed the one character, Mr. Mushnick, to a female because Sarah Beitch was just incredible in her audition.”