Actors say the message of the musical resonates with the season

The Wicked Witch of the West. Munchkin Country. Dorothy’s ruby-red slippers.

Few stories have as memorable and iconic visual imagery as does L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz.”

Glynis Leyshon, director of Alberta Theater Projects’, or ATP, production of the tale, says that such scenes lend themselves to the imagination of the audience.

“If we don’t really have a house that’s twisting and turning, how do you make it work theatrically?” Leyshon said, who last year adapted the acclaimed “Seussical” musical for ATP.

“The answer is we are trying to adapt the spirit of the film, without trying to replicate the film.”

Of course, the spirit of the film is lasting and simple. It takes five famous words for 16-year-old Judy Garland to sum it up in the 1939 version of the story: “There’s no place like home.”

Take a break from holiday shopping and visit the Emerald City with Dorothy.            Photo Courtesy of Alberta Theater ProjectsBut without red slippers to tap together three times, the message of the film then becomes resonant for the holiday season, said Ksenia Thurgood, who plays Dorothy in the production.

“There is no place like home,” Thurgood said. “I don’t mean as a place, but as long as you have good people in your life, you can’t go wrong.”

Thurgood felt drawn to the character of Dorothy as a child — one of the few young brunette heroines in fiction. The pressure of stepping into an iconic role is something she approaches pragmatically.

“Judy said herself, ‘Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else,’” Thurgood said. “I’m not Judy. I can just be the best possible version of myself to tell the story.”

The best possible version of Ksenia Thurgood are qualities she sees and admires in Dorothy, and qualities she hopes to express in the production.

“I hope I bring my heart to the role, which I think is a lot like Dorothy,” Thurgood said. “She has a strong moral compass. She has a natural curiosity about the world, her family and her friends are so important to her.”

One of those friends Dorothy meets in Oz is the Scarecrow, played in this production by Bruce Horak.

Horak, who got his start at ATP in 1993 as a junior apprentice, was immediately drawn to the Scarecrow role. His father was a collector of old hardcover books, and Horak distinctly remembers enjoying Baum’s “The Scarecrow of Oz.”

“That was a character that I completely related to. The Scarecrow has a really nice quiet wisdom to him that I’ve always admired,” Horak said. “Flash forward a few years to when I finally have a chance to play this character, and this is kind of a dream come true.”

Leyshon feels that much of what makes the story a strong theatrical production is the fact that it translates that simple story on an epic scale from 1939 to 2011.

“It’s epic. It really is like ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Star Wars.’” Leyshon said. “It really is a big quest, a big journey for our hero to find her way home after losing her way.”

And the heart of the play remains what makes this story positioned especially for the holiday season.

“I truly think that anyone can relate to knowing what’s important to life when you get right down to it,” Thurgood said. “It’s having those friends, that family. If you have those things, you will be okay. There truly is no place like home.”

The “Wizard of Oz” opens Nov. 23 at Alberta Theater Projects. For more information, visit ATPlive.com or call 403-294-7402.

jdryden@cjournal.ca