A kid-friendly, one-act ‘Wizard of Oz’ from Theatre Aspen

Shannon Asher
Special to The Aspen Times


What: ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ presented by Theatre Aspen School

Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park

When: Thursday, July 25 through Sunday, Aug. 4

How much: $30/general admission; $15/student

Tickets: Theatre Aspen box office;

More info: The production is recommended for children 4 and up.

Theatre Aspen’s student production of “The Wizard of Oz” has all the classic characters and songs, but it’s presented with an unusual, modern twist. Glinda’s pink ball gown has been transformed into a pantsuit and the Munchkins have tie-dyed shirts, for instance.

“I wanted to pay homage to the film and give audiences what they hope for while also putting my own spin on things,” director Elise Kinnon said.

The Theatre Aspen Summer Conservatory’s one-act version of the treasured family favorite will open at the Hurst Theatre on Thursday and run through Aug. 4.

Kinnon, the company’s resident director and choreographer, is back for her sixth season with Theatre Aspen to helm “Oz.”

“I’m really excited about the way we have creatively pushed the boundaries from the original movie into our own adaptation for Theatre Aspen audiences,” she said. “The 1939 MGM film is one of the greatest films in cinema history and we wanted to pay homage to that.”

Following the classic tale of Dorothy Gale and her travels through an unfamiliar land with witches, Munchkins and flying monkeys, “The Wizard of Oz” is a timeless tale suited for the whole family.

“The story itself is so legendary and well known,” said Kinnon. “It is such a pleasure to work on the production for live theater and to see the show come to life.”

Kinnon also directed Theatre Aspen’s Cabaret Series and co-directed and co-choreographed “Little Shop of Horrors,” while also directing the upcoming Apprentice Showcase and working with Tony Award winner Victoria Clark on Theatre Aspen’s new Triple Threat Training Program.

“We have a very large and amazing group of young performers,” she said. “The rehearsal period is very intense and it runs at a professional level. Getting to see the students’ growth and passion for the arts is very inspiring. I learn as much from them as they learn from me. They are all very dedicated to their craft and I am proud of the work we have produced.”

Kinnon has worked with many of these conservatory program students for several years now and seen these young artists grow with each season.

“I love starting at the beginning and putting the puzzle pieces together,” she said. “The cast has grown so much in the past three weeks. … I really enjoy working with young artists and teaching them the ropes. I love seeing their progress and I feel passionate about seeing them succeed to become the performers that they hope to be.”

Eighteen-year-old Beth Caudill of Basalt is among the ensemble’s stars, playing various roles in the production (Nikko, the head monkey of the Wicked Witch of the West, a Jitterbug and a crow). Having done theater since the age of 11, Caudill is no stranger to show business.

“Summer conservatory rehearsals are long and rigorous,” she said, “but they have been running quickly and effectively. Like previous years, we put up the show in three weeks with the fourth week entering tech and opening night. I feel like rehearsals have flown by this year and I can’t believe that opening night is less than a week away.”

The “Oz” production includes the largest conservatory cast in Theatre Aspen history. Caudill embraces her castmates like family. Oftentimes, the summer program includes people who don’t live here year-round. So, Caudill said, it’s fun for her to meet new friends and be reunited with old ones.

As Basalt High School dance captain, Caudill enjoys having the opportunity to work closely with the theater ensemble.

“The difference between a high school show and a conservatory is the fact that everyone wants to be there,” she said. “And we all choose to dedicate our time to the show. It’s fun working with people who care about what we’re doing.”

The thrust stage of the Hurst is also a unique challenge for students, who have to perform to audience on three sides.

“Due to the architecture of the space, we get to have a little more fun with our blocking,” Caudill said. “We use the whole theater as our set. We are able to use the house aisles and ‘moats’ in order to fully immerse the audience in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”