Murry's, at 50, takes a leap in staging The Wizard of Oz

Posted: July 13, 2017 at 1:54 a.m.

Katherine Yacko plays Dorothy and Archie plays Toto in The Wizard of Oz at Murry’s Dinner Playhouse.

Katherine Yacko plays Dorothy and Archie plays Toto in The Wizard of Oz at Murry’s Dinner Playhouse.

A new challenge is blowing into Murry's Dinner Playhouse.

For the first time in its 50-year history, the theater is staging The Wizard of Oz. The 21-person cast will complete the 45 remaining shows in the run, through Aug. 26.

The Wizard of Oz

Through Aug. 26, Murry’s Dinner Playhouse, 6323 Colonel Glenn Road, Little Rock. Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, book by John Kane, adapted by Robert Johanson, based on the 1939 film, adapted from the L. Frank Baum classic. Doors and buffet open 90 minutes before curtain: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (matinees only Wednesday next week, July 26 and Aug. 2), 12:40 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $35-$37, $23 for children 15 and younger; show only, $25 and $15.

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"We have had countless requests for this show, and we had the cast for it," says Ike McEntire, owner, operator and producer at Murry's Dinner Playhouse, adding, "It is also our 50th anniversary, so I thought this would be a great show to do."

McEntire says the dinner theater keeps a rotation of different comedy-based shows in its 10-event yearly schedule and tries to allow seven to 10 years before revisiting a show due to their large contingent of season ticket holders.

The cast began rehearsing June 24, a limited time frame considering all that goes into learning the various intricacies of a show.

Directer Don Bolinger says, "It typically takes that first week to really get into some type of repetition so that we are more comfortable with all of the comings and goings. Because the backstage traffic is just as important as the on-stage traffic in terms of people getting to their spot to make entrances."

Bolinger has worked on and off at Murry's since 1986 and has been directing there for three years. He will also play the Wizard and Professor Marvel.

Despite having to put so much together in such a short amount of time, Bolinger will benefit from having an experienced cast. Katherine Yacko, who plays Dorothy, has performed the role five times in various productions.

"It is great to have someone with that much experience with the production," Bolinger says. "This is my first time to direct it and be in it. ... Everyone has seen the movie, but the stage version is always different and has its challenges, so it is great to have her expertise."

Playing the Wicked Witch is Laurie Pascale, who recently played the same role on a national tour after auditioning for it in New York, a bonus "in terms of all the technical effects that we are trying to mimic in our little space," Bolinger says.

Emory Tyson Molitor, who plays Glinda and Aunt Em, and James Thweatt, who plays Zeke and the Lion, also have previous experience with this play.

The small, intimate venue increases the attention to detail for Bolinger and the cast, motivating them to perform at a high level.

"There is not a bad seat in the house. Everyone is really close, so it is a fun place to perform for the audience and the actors. They get instant gratification," McEntire says.

That also means an even bigger microscope on the performance.

"The main stage is approximately 16 feet by 24 feet, so to mount a big musical in that tiny space, people are in there right on top of the action of the play," Bolinger says. "It is hard to fake it at Murry's because you are right there."

A new animated projection screen is being used to change the backdrop, and a specially trained dog named Archie plays Toto.

Bolinger and McEntire say they are excited about delivering quality performances to an audience that now spans multiple generations.

"We have patrons that have been coming for years," Bolinger says. "Their children's children are now regulars."

Weekend on 07/13/2017