For those who live in Lebanon County, there's no place like home.
So says the Lebanon Community Theatre with its stage adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic children's novel, "The Wizard of Oz."
Carol Saltzer of Palmyra, president of the theatre's board and co-director of its production of "The Wizard of Oz," couldn't agree more.
"I'm a huge Wizard of Oz fan," she said. "Who doesn't love it?"
The story of Dorothy, a young girl trying to escape the dreary landscape of her native Kansas, and her adventures in the magical land of Oz has been captivating audiences since the novel was first published in 1900. The first musical adaptation was performed in 1902 in Chicago and, since then, has been adapted into countless films, plays, spin-offs and even ballets, performed in countries all over the world.
And now, the story is on the Lebanon stage. The show premiered last Thursday and continues at 7:30 p.m. July 24-26, and July 31-Aug. 2, in addition to Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. on July 27 and Aug. 3.
Lebanon Community Theatre, located at East Maple Street and Theatre Drive in Stoever's Dam Park, decided to perform the play after expressing an interest in performing a fairy tale and considering "Beauty and the Beast." Ultimately, the company chose to visit the Wizard instead.
For "The Wizard of Oz," LCT was fortunate to have enough roles for each person who auditioned.
"We wanted to use everybody who auditioned," Saltzer explained, "they all got a part."
This culminated in a cast of 74 people, including Dorothy's canine co-star, Toto. A large crew works in the background as well, managing the lighting, sound, music and other elements essential to a successful night.
Playing Dorothy is Lilly Strader of Hershey. Rick Kopecky of Lebanon is the Scarecrow, Stephen Carpenter of Lebanon is the Tinman, Will Shaffer of Palmyra is the Cowardly Lion, Jack Cantwell of Lebanon has the dual roles of the Wizard of Oz and the professor, Sue DeSendi of Lebanon is Auntie Em, and Jay Kern of Jonestown is Uncle Henry. Also in lead roles are Kirstyn Schaeffer of Lebanon as Glinda, Todd Snovel of Annville as the guard/gatekeeper, and Julie Campbell of Annville as the Wicked Witch of the West.
There is a large supporting cast, including 40 kids playing Munchkins.
"We have a team of many, many people," said co-director Brian Keeney of Cornwall, who became involved after Saltzer approached him in January with an interest in co-directing the show.
Most of the props, Saltzer said, were either found, borrowed or rented from other theater companies which had recently performed the play. The costumes were made by the grandmother of one of the cast members.
The production took at least six months of preparation, during which time the cast and crew visited five other area productions of the play for research purposes. From these performances they were able to decide what worked and what didn't, and apply these decisions to their own show.
The crew also took notes on how the story played on the silver screen, referencing MGM Studio's famous 1939 film adaptation starring Judy Garland.
"We watched the movie a lot of times," said Saltzer, "especially since this is the 75th anniversary of the film."
"It's been a long process to get here," added Keeney.
The LCT chose to perform the 1987 version of the play originally written for the Royal Shakespeare Company of London and known as the "RSC" version. The script is an adaptation from the film but includes a number of different songs.
"We'll be doing songs that people aren't used to seeing," Saltzer explained, "and we wanted to add a dance number."
The dance is called the "Jitterbug," a piece unique to the RSC version.
Another feature of the LCT's performance is its replication of the film's memorable change from the black-and-white tedium of the Kansas scenes to the jaw-dropping Technicolor of Oz.
In the play, this effect is achieved through the use of props, background, lighting and costuming. Kansas is bleak and monotone, but Oz is full of color and fanciful imagery, especially in the backdrop scenery.
"We really wanted to do that," Saltzer said. "We wanted to bring out vibrant colors when the Munchkins come out."
Of course, casting 45 young children as Munchkins in the introduction to Oz also helps brighten the scene.
Spectacular special effects are another aspect of the performance that promise to leave crowds awe-struck.
"I think we have some neat special effects that the audience will enjoy," Saltzer said, noting a whirlwind tornado scene and a memorable meeting with the Wizard.
Saltzer, who has been involved with the theatre since its production of "Godspell" four years ago, also teaches music and dance at the One Broadway Dance and Performing Arts Center in Hershey. She, like co-director Keeney, is comfortable as either a performer or director, although, as Keeney noted, "it's different to be on this side of the stage."
Both acted in last year's performance of "The Sound of Music."
Though the position is potentially nerve-wracking, the directors have the utmost confidence in the ability of their cast and crew.
"We knew that now we could just sit back and let them take over," Keeney said during a rehearsal last week.
Even in wake of their achievement with "The Wizard of Oz," the LCT shows no signs of slowing down, moving headlong into its production of Woody Allen's "Don't Drink the Water" in October and Elvira Woodruff's "The Christmas Doll" in late November and early December.
"We celebrated our 50th anniversary two years ago," Saltzer said, "and we're looking forward to the next 50 years."
And the future looks bright for the company, as crowds gaped at a rainbow shining down on the theater's property during intermission of a dress rehearsal last week.
"This is the second night that we've had a rainbow," Saltzer said. "We really are lucky."
IF YOU GO: "The Wizard of Oz" will be presented July 24-27 and July 31-Aug. 3. Ticket prices are $15 on Thursdays and $20 for every other performance. A student discount of $5 is available. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 717-273-5151 or visit the website at www.lebanontheatre.org.