REHEARSAL Cast members of the Raven Players' production of 'The Wizard of Oz' learn their lines and blocking during a Saturday morning rehearsal on the Raven stage, March 9. From left: Emmaleigh Conachy (the Crow), Elliot Davis (the Scarecrow), and Eily Carniglia (Dorothy).

There’s something downright weird about L. Frank Baum stories. There are scarecrows and robots that come to life, flying monkeys, and both terrifying and comforting witches, to say nothing of interdimensional travel and a small dog named Toto.

“They’re a bit darker than the mainstream movie version,” said Director Steven David Martin of the books, which he discovered as a young boy. “They’re filled with a little bit more peril than we get a taste of in the movie. I feel like it’s a little bit more angsty.”

That angst, peril and 21 songs should make for terrific entertainment for children and their parents over three weekends of The Wizard of Oz, from March 22 to April 7, at the Raven Performing Arts Theater.

DIRECTION Choreographer Katie Watts-Whittaker (left) and musical director Kelly Considine work with the cast at a Saturday rehearsal, March 9. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ opens March 22 and runs until April 7.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the first in a series of Oz books, written between 1900 and 1919, but it was the 1939 film version that put Oz on the map and solidified Judy Garland’s stardom, making a modern standard of its Academy Award-winning song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” 

But don’t forget that’s only one of more than 20 songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg that will have audiences singing along and skipping back home on the memory of Dorothy’s adventures.

More Than One Wizard

There are several stage versions of the Wizard tales, some of which predate the movie and some of which are adapted for younger audiences. These include the version presented last year at St. John’s School in Healdsburg, also directed by Steven David Martin.

“They hadn’t done a musical in a few years because of the pandemic and other reasons,” said Martin. He said the principal, Joe Felice, had only one request: Make it something that all the kids who audition can be involved in.

“So I said, ‘Okay, well, I can have a hundred Munchkins if I want.’ So we decided to do Wizard of Oz.” That was Martin’s first pass at directing the stage classic, and he has followed it up with “the full-length version with all the bells and whistles” that opens this weekend on the Raven stage.

This version is a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which includes not only the familiar “Rainbow,” “Off to See the Wizard” and “If I Only Had a …” songs, but a tune that was edited out of the 1939 film version prior to its release, “The Jitterbug.”

The collapse of Dorothy and her three fantastical companions in a poppy field has always seemed a big abrupt—what kind of flowers are those, anyway? It turns out they had been danced into exhaustion by the arrival of some enchanted insects, the Jitterbugs. The jazzy song-and-dance number has been restored to this stage version.

While, as Martin said, there could be 100 Munchkins (and presumably as many Jitterbugs), the total cast number is closer to 28, including several members of the Young at Heart program. These include William Young, who plays a consistently charming Toto throughout. “H’s a really, really talented kid,” Watts said.

More Than One Cast

To make the most of the capable Raven Players, Watts and Martin agreed to double-cast all the main players, creating two separate ways of experiencing the play.

Consider the part of the Scarecrow, whose gracefully uncoordinated dances can be the highlight of the show (as in the movie, with Ray Bolger in the part). The Raven production features two very different performers on alternate nights, Elliot Davis (of Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat) and Bohn Connor (of Evil Dead) in the role.

WIZARD ON STATE As Glinda the good witch (Addison Domenichelli) looks skyward, Dorothy (Teagan Arata) vows to be a good girl in a previous production of “Wizard of Oz” from St. John’s Catholic School. (Photo by Ashlei Kilkenny Photography)

Similar dualities occur throughout the cast: Dan Murray and Joe Caruselle as the Tin Man, Nicholas Augusta and Evan Espinoza as the Cowardly Lion, and Craig Peoples and Matt Farrell as the Wizard (or Uncle Henry) in alternate performances.

And then there are two Dorothys, Joanna Burrill and Eily Carniglia—all talented, both Martin and Watts hasten to add.

“It seemed like such a good idea at the time,” Martin said, laughing. But he’s glad he took the risk. “I think the cool thing about it that evolved, and I was hoping it would go this way, is that we’re not changing the story, changing the lines or changing the music. But there’s a different feeling to each cast—each set of actors brings their own kind of unique energy to the show.”

Two main characters are constant, though: the Wicked Witch, played by Kate Edery, and the Good Witch, from choreographer Watts herself. And of course the dog, Toto.

“I think that The Wizard of Oz is such a universal story, of wanting adventure and sometimes not, of desiring a new adventure and not quite understanding and appreciating the things that are right in front of you,” Watts said. “It’s a magical story, and I think it’s one that everyone can relate to in one way or another.”

Shows are Fridays and Saturdays from March 22 to April 6, at 7:30pm; Thursday March 28, at 7:30pm; and matinees on March 24, March 30 and April 7, at 2pm. Matinees offer post-performance opportunities for photos with the costumed cast. For tickets, go to

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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