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CHAMPAIGN — What’s not to like about “Over The Rainbow,” “Munchkinland (Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead),” “If I Only Had A Brain,” “We’re Off To See The Wizard” and “The Merry Old Land of Oz”?

The Champaign Urbana Theatre Company will perform the classic musical — with live musical accompaniment. It’s based directly on the film but with some twists, starting tonight at the Virginia Theatre.

If you have a brain, you know that everyone loves that Judy Garland version.

Director Jeff Dare said dealing with a classic is interesting.

“In terms of vision for the show, we worked hard to find the balance between the 1939 film with Judy Garland and our own retelling,” he said.

“We found moments and looks where we could pay homage to the classic, and times when we wanted to stretch away from it. The film is so iconic that these words and music and images have seeped into our society’s collective memory, so finding the right balance was important for us.

The show is produced by Lauren Ramshaw.

“Though a technically challenging show with many special effects and visual interests, the cast has worked hard to humanize the characters and make them relatable to life today. Audience members will empathize with Dorothy as she’s misplaced from her home, the Lion as he gains courage, and the ‘Fab Four’ as they travel on their journey together as unlikely friends,” Ramshaw said.

She made a special acknowledgement of the Munchkins who “bring an unmatched energy and playfulness to the stage,” as well as Toto, whom she called a crowd pleaser.

Dare said he tried to find the places where the heroes overcome fear.

“The land of Oz is legitimately scary, and not just because everything there is new,” Dare said.

“The Witch will do anything it takes to get what she wants, and uses some fairly insidious means to get it. Many of our settings are spooky and uncomfortable for the heroes. Characters use fear as a tool to manipulate and intimidate. When Dorothy and her friends overcome this fear, it shows us who they really are.”

Dorothy is the key for Dare “because of this unrelentingly strong character who is willing to do just about anything to protect the people she cares about.”

“Every time you think she’s about to give up, she shows her strength and conviction to do the next right thing, even though it’s hard,” he said.

Musical direction for the production is by Cheryl Forest Morganson and Dave Ivy.

Almost 50 years after the classic movie for children and adults was released, it was produced for the stage in 1987 by the Royal Shakespeare Company. That staging took its cues more from the movie than the original books.

The play showcased all of the hit songs of the original film. The first U.S. tour of the Royal Shakespeare production of “The Wizard of Oz” was in 1988.

Reporter

Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is pwood@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).