Behind The Curtain: Geva Theatre Center’s “Wizard of Oz” features LGBTQ+ performers

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Geva Theatre Center kicks off its 51st season with the beloved American musical “The Wizard of Oz,” featuring a cast of LGBTQ+ performers.

The show opens Friday, Sept. 1 on the theater’s main stage.

News10NBC’s Emily Putnam sat down with the actors playing the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Scarecrow for a conversation about Geva’s “merry old land of Oz” and how this version of the story differs from past versions.

“In the email we got for our first audition, the first line was: ‘Forget everything you know about ‘The Wizard of Oz,'” said Barnaby Reiter (he/him), who plays the Tin Man.

In a fresh take on L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 tale, Geva has maintained all of the original characters and plot points that many generations of fans have grown to know and love and added some modern flair.

”It’s almost as if L. Frank Baum wrote it today,” said Reiter. ”I guess there’s more colors to the rainbow then there maybe was in 1939.” (That’s when the classic MGM film was released.)

The theater says the family-friendly musical features a cast of LGBTQ+ performers and themes.

Easton Michaels (they/she), who plays the Scarecrow, explained that when she went in for her audition, instead of stuffing her pockets with straw like many Scarecrows past, she stuffed them with confetti. Nothing is off-limits in this production, she says.

”I think there’s a lot to learn in our production,” said Michaels. “You know, it’s the same text, it’s the same words, it’s the same songs, we’ve just reimagined it a different way.”

Michaels says audiences can expect to see things they’ve probably never seen before in other productions of Oz, like lots of toys, Barbie-esque elements, lights, haze, glitter, very high heels, and “magic” moments, to name a few.

Pauli Pontrelli (ze/zir) plays the Lion.

Emily Putnam: “What is it about The WIzard of Oz that speaks to the LGBTQ+ experience?”
Pauli Pontrelli: ”The journey reminds me of queerness and our experience as LGBTQIA people, because sometimes we need our friends to remind us who we are inside.”

Among the cast is “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Rose as Glinda the Good Witch and Rochester’s own creative force Thomas Warfield as the great and powerful Wizard.

”I think it’s really fitting that Thomas Warfield is playing the Wizard just based on his amazing influence on this city,” said Pontrelli.

The four main characters — Dorothy (played by Savy Jackson), the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion travel the Yellow Brick Road to ask the Wizard for things they don’t realize they already have. The actors playing the four friends hope the dreams audiences dare to dream — whether about a heart, a brain, or a sense of belonging — really do come true.

”What I’d love is for people to leave the theater and be like … oh, I didn’t realize that that could be for me,” said Reiter.

“Considering what our nation’s been going through for the past few years, what the queer community is facing,” said Pontrelli, “I hope people come out feeling love, feeling like they can be themselves, and feeling like there is a place for them wherever they go.”

The show runs through Sunday, October 1. Geva is also hosting several free community events related to the show, and you can find more information here.

For tickets and more information, click here.