On Stage: We’re off to see the Wizard in Wilmington

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By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

The Wizard of Oz

If you’re going to The Playhouse on Rodney Square (10th and Market streets, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-888-0200, www. duponttheatre.com) this week, you’ll probably find yourself singing these words – “We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz”.

The national tour of “Wizard of Oz” is being presented at theater in downtown Wilmington now through Sunday. The production is based on the iconic 1939 MGM film starring Judy Garland.

There truly is no place like home – which is the theme of the greatest family musical of all time, “Wizard of Oz.” The entire family will be captivated it travels down the Yellow Brick Road and enjoys the tale of Dorothy, Toto and their friends the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow in a lavish production that features interesting special effects, dazzling choreography and classic songs.

The talented cast of the show, which is a Ajax Touring/Prater Production, features Kalie Kaimann as Dorothy, Victor Legarreta as Lion/Zeke, Chris Duir as Scarecrow/Hunk, and Christopher Russell as Tinman/Hickory.

The show stays true to the story from the movie. Whenever “The Wizard of Oz” is presented on stage, the producers and cast always have great respect for the classic staging and an attitude of “Why mess with perfection?”

“We do stay true to the original,” said Legarreta, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in New Philadelphia, Ohio.

“We have added a jitterbug number that wasn’t in the original – but that’s it. All the cast members bring something of themselves to their roles but always stay true to the original characters.

“Fortunately, I’ve played all three friends over the years. Last year, I did the Cowardly Lion in a Prater Production show. I try to make it fresh. But, my opinion is that you don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.

“I pay a great tribute to Bret Lahr (who played The Cowardly Lion in the movie). I do it the way he did it. You have to stay true – especially with a character like the Cowardly Lion…like when he says – I got a permanent just for this occasion.”

Carrying on an iconic role is never easy.

“There are some challenges with this role,” said Legarreta, who is from Islip, Long Island. “My speaking voice doesn’t sound like a lion. I have to lower my speaking voice and keep the resonance going.

“Also, the suit is really hot. Performing a long show like this gets really hot in the costumes we wear. By the end of the show each night, the friends are all toast.”

For more than 70 years, exposure to “The Wizard of Oz” has been part of growing up in America. It’s such a well-known piece. It’s a family classic because of the moral of the story, the goodness, the no place like home theme. And, there are the songs – songs such as “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and “If I Only Had A Brain.” These are songs your grandparents sang, and they’ve reached across generations.
“I know I watched it on TV many times when I was a kid,” said Legarreta. “This show is innocent. It hits home on every level. You become a child again when you watch it. It’s a good family show. It goes from generation to generation. It’s innocent and pure. Everyone can enjoy it.”

Video link for “Wizard of Oz” — https://youtu.be/7Z8opEpklAg.

“Wizard of Oz” will run now through November 19 at The Playhouse on Rodney Square. Show times are: Tuesday-Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $40, with a discount of $15 off regular-priced tickets for children ages 12 and under.

Pere Ubu

Pere Ubu, which visits the area on November 14 for a show at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-739-9684,

www.johnnybrendas.com), is a band with no equal.

Formed in Cleveland by David Thomas and Peter Laughner when their former band Rocket from the Tombs disbanded. Laughner left the group after its first two singles, and died soon afterwards of acute pancreatic failure.

Pere Ubu has gone through many incarnations over the last 42 years and Thomas has remained the lone constant. Just as Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor and Bright Eyes is Conor Oberst, Pere Ubu is David Thomas.

Pere Ubu created its own genre-defying genre in the late 1970s – avant-garage – and is still defying genres.

In 1978, Pere Ubu released its debut album “The Modern Dance” on Blank Records. After releasing more than 20 albums in the last four decades, Pere Ubu unleashed its latest long-playing sonic assault in September.

Pere Ubu’s new album “20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo” on Cherry Red Records is an album that opens the doors of the avant-garage to reveal the hardworking mechanics hammering away at the fundamentals of blue-collar rock. A three-guitar revision spans the state of the art for guitar-based rock in the year 2017. Keith Moliné is joined by Cleveland guitar legend Gary Siperko and Kristof Hahn in the now familiar orchestra of analog and digital synths, clarinet, drums and Thomas’ unquestionably unique vocals.

“We started working on the album in the summer of 2016,” said Thomas, during a recent trans-Atlantic phone interview from his home in Brighton, England.

“We finished it in January this year. We recorded most of it at Suma, a studio in Ohio where we’ve always recorded. Then, we did some overdubbing at a smaller studio.”

The Pere Ubu line-up on the album included David Thomas – vocals; Keith Moliné – guitar; Gary Siperko – guitar; Kristof Hahn – steel guitar; Darryl Boon – clarinet and more; Robert Wheeler – analog synths, theremin; Gagarin – digital synths; Michele Temple – bass; and Steve Mehlman – drums.

According to Thomas, “’To my way of thinking, the new album is The James Gang teaming up with Tangerine Dream. Or something like that. The Chinese Whispers methodology we worked on the last two albums, now that everyone has gotten comfortable with it, has been replaced by the Dark Room. Put a bunch of musicians in a lightless room and by feeling one small section of an unknown object have them figure what it must be.”

Pere Ubu’s current tour is called “The Monkey Net Tour” and features David Thomas, Siperko, Wheeler, Temple and Mehlman. On the choice of tour name, Thomas said, “An infinite number of monkeys clicking on an infinite number of links will yield nothing but an infinite number of bananas.”

The recently-released album plays heavily into the current live stage offering from Pere Ubu.

“The band is American, British and German,” said Thomas. “We’re touring in support of ‘20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo’ – that’s the purpose.

“The live show will be one-third the new album, one-third the middle years and one-third from the early years. It depends on which songs were difficult to play. We’re concentrating on the new album. We got it charted out so we can do it easy.”

When a band has been releasing albums for more than 40 years, it normally accumulates more than a few “must play” songs – tunes that the fans demand to hear. But, “normally” doesn’t normally factor in Pere Ubu’s weltanschauung.

“For us, there is nothing that is ‘must play,’ to be honest,” said Thomas. “The songs we choose from the past are ones that are easy to learn. Deciding what songs to play in a set is not something I’m very good at.

“Nothing is crucial – songs or band instruments. We have great musicians and we have me. Nothing is crucial except delivering the goods.”

The band’s demographics fall into the same area as its sound – almost impossible to figure out or pinpoint.

“Our audiences vary from city to city,” said Thomas. “Sometimes, it is a bunch of old guys and their dogs — like the show we just played in Lisbon (Portugal). Then, we did a show in Madrid (Spain) and it was a totally different demographic.”

When Thomas and his band play at Johnny Brenda’s, there will be one definite unifying factor in the audience – a love of Pere Ubu’s music and its charismatic and enigmatic front man.

Video link for Pere Ubu – https://youtu.be/wI0GfXynR6k.

The show at Johnny Brenda’s, which has Minibeast and RunHideFight as opening acts, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

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