There's no place like an off-Broadway stage. At least that is how the actors-in-training from High Tech High School in North Bergen feel about their most recent trip to musical theater with their month long performance of Oz: A Twisted Musical.
The student-run production was showcased to family and friends at HTHS, a Hudson County vocational-technical school, in April 2002 and won the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award, prompting theater arts teacher Alex Perez to seek an off-Broadway venue for the show.
More than a year later, the group of HTHS students (some now alumni) brought their twist of a beloved classic to the Big Apple, entertaining audiences with an eclectic mix of music, color, and laughs.
"It's been really fun," Perez said. "They get to perform in front of a raw New York audience seven times a week."
Oz, with music and lyrics written by composer Bill Francoeur, takes the well-known childhood story of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz and infuses it with a mix of country, pop, rap, and rock music that not only showcases the actors' vocal ability and range, but also their versatility in jumping between various musical genres.
The script was originally written by Tim Kelly in the mid-'80s, taking a modern spin on the classic. While the base of the script remains the same, the students added newer pop culture references and pumped the show full of scenes sure to spark the audience's interest.
"We did a little bit of revision to the script since our first show in 2002," said Kyla Garcia, who plays "Dorothy." "Pop culture changed and we had to change with it."
Among the various pop culture references is the classic one-liner "What you talking about Willis?" made famous by Gary Coleman on the television comedy Diff'rent Strokes; the theme music from Mission Impossible, and a fight sequence simulating the slow motion scenes from recent blockbuster hit The Matrix.
"Everyone always notices The Matrix scene," said Jeff Vicente, who put a spin on the "Tin Woodsman," making him vain and appearance-conscious. "They love that scene."
The pop culture references, including digs about Mariah Carey and her box office flop Glitter, provide laughs for the adults, and the music provides a fun and entertaining atmosphere for children. Oz: A Twisted Musical is a show the whole family can enjoy.
"It's a children's musical," said Frank Criscione, who plays the brainless "Scarecrow." "And to get to touch a child in that way, and bring a little imagination and enjoyment to them is an amazing opportunity."
Oz: A Twisted Musical can be seen at The Producers' Club Theater, 616 Ninth Avenue (at 44th Street) in New York City through Aug. 9 with shows Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m. Tickets are $30. For information call the box office at (212) 868-4444 or visit at www.smarttix.com or www.ozmusical.com. q