Feature photo: The cast of The Wizard of Oz on the first day of rehearsals at the Alliance Theatre. Photo by A’riel Tinter. Discount tickets are available on PoshDealz.com.

Bringing American Myth to Life:

Phillip DePoy on Giving The Wizard of Oz a Folklore Spin

By Sally Henry

Music Director Phillip DePoy and Director Rosemary Newcott on the first day of rehearsals for The Wizard of Oz. Photo by A’riel Tinter

What happens when an age-old story becomes legend? It could fade into oblivion, or it could get a new lease on life from Director Rosemary Newcott. According to the show’s Musical Director Phillip DePoy, her latest treatment is a no-brainer in the Alliance Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz.

“The Wizard of Oz is, for all intents and purposes, American mythology,” DePoy explains. “The books, and certainly the movie, have crossed over into what you might refer to as popular folklore. As such, Rosemary’s idea for this production is a story of ‘Americana’ and of early twentieth-century folk culture.” Each element of this new imagining draws on the Americana motif. And no one is more enthusiastic about how this design concept plays out than the musical director himself.

Set Designer Kat Conley. Photo by A’riel Tinter

“Visually, it’s been really exciting to look at the show’s design,” gushes DePoy. “It starts in Kansas with a big old barn — as does the movie — and then things in the barn become the objects in Oz. For instance, many of the creatures in Oz are puppets made of found objects typical to a barn. The costumes start off looking like Kansas farmhand wear and then turn into imaginative, beautiful reawakenings of the same garments. The whole show is meant to feel hand-built and evoke the feeling of being on a farm. This is felt in the music, sets, costumes, and even the light.”

DePoy says he fell more in love with the show with each new look at a rendering. “I would say, ‘Oh, that’s brilliant!’ and then I’d turn the page and say, ‘No, that’s better!’ and turn the page and go, ‘No, that’s better!’ And it just kept getting better!” For his own part in telling the story, DePoy was tasked with addressing the show’s classic American songs. The folk spin enhances the songs in a fresh and simple way.

“When Rosemary first described her vision, I was particularly excited about reimagining the music from a folk perspective. We won’t be changing any of the melodies or any of the words, just approaching them with an Americana ear.” This will mean use of mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and banjo a la true folk music from the time period of the story itself.

“In a way, the folk ethos reimagines The Wizard of Oz so that it speaks to everyone, whether they have seen the movie a hundred times or never before. Rosemary’s take strikes me as something that’s almost obvious in the writing already, just in a really unique, imaginative way.”

Actor Molly Coyne. Photo by A’riel Tinter.

DePoy says collaboration with Newcott has been hands down the highlight of his experience. “Working with Rosemary Newcott is one of my favorite things in the world. She’s a genius. My opinion is whenever you get a chance to work with Rosemary, you should probably do it. A lot of the fun in it for me is just being in the same room with her. It’s a dream!” He similarly praises the rest of the cast and creative team — including his brother Scott — sharing how brilliant each of them is, saying “It’s hardly like going to work! It’s more like going to a party.”

Though he says he would be completely content if this show were only the band playing these songs in concert without a narrative, DePoy is excited for audiences to get to know this natural next step for the beloved story saying “I think it’s exactly The Wizard of Oz that we remember while completely new at the same time. That’s a hard thing to pull off, but I think that’s what we’ll be able to do.”

The Wizard of Oz runs until April 14 at the Alliance Theatre. Discount tickets for The Wizard of Oz are available on PoshDealz.com.

About Sally Henry

A writer with a passion for building relationships and telling people's stories, Sally Henry is a freelance arts and entertainment journalist. She has had the privilege of interviewing both local theatre professionals and multi-award-winning celebrities including Carol Burnett, Matthew Morrison, and Taylor Hicks. With theatre journalism experience since 2011, her work has been featured on BroadwayWorld.com, the Huffington Post, and the Kennedy Center's American College Theatre Festival.

View all posts by Sally Henry