The Wonderful Land of Oz Magic Returns to Orinda Starlight

(Jill Gelster, Photographer)
Tom Westlake as the Scarcrow in the 2017 production of The Wizard of Oz. Westlake will be reprising this character in this season’s production of the Wonderful Land of Oz.

    The second production of the Orinda Starlight Village Players (OrSVP), set for July 22 through Aug. 13, is Frank L. Baum’s Wonderful Land of Oz, the second in The Wizard of Oz series. Wonderful Land of Oz is adapted by Malcom Cowler into a musical extravaganza, with lyrics by Cowler, music by Rice Majors and live musical accompaniment by Deborah Dahl Shanks.
    “I’ve done two other musicals at Orinda in the past – Pinocchio and Wizard of Oz – and we’ve always used recorded music for the songs,” said Cowler. “This time Deborah will be playing the music live each night.”
    The action starts with a young boy named Tip. The wicked sorceress Mombi, in the Land of the Gillikans, is unhappily raising Tip. Tip escapes from Mombi with the aid of Jack Pumpkinhead, meets up with an oddball crew of characters and determines to defeat Mombi and discover a secret Mombi has been hiding for years.
    Cowler is excited to be back in production with this show. “It’ll really be great to get a full production in, after Covid. This show was set to produce in 2020 before Covid struck,” he said.
    The delay had some positive effects. “The silver lining is that Rice Majors and I have had a lot more time to work on the musical arrangements,” said Cowler. “In the interim we’ve found a wonderful music director for the show in Deborah Dahl Shanks.”
    Majors joined Cowler is 2019 to begin work on this production. “I put an ad on for a music composer. I wrote the lyrics to 12 songs for the show and needed someone to write the music,” said Cowler. “Rice has been really easy to work with and has composed some remarkable music that I’m sure our patrons will enjoy enormously.”
    Cowler is known at OrSVP for the many adaptations he’s produced, including Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and, of course, L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.
    “When I write an adaptation, I start with importing the entire original novel into the word processor I use for scripting,” said Cowler. “Then I start to convert it to a stage play, retaining as much of the original dialog as I can. This approach means when you watch the show, you’re hearing the exact words of the author 80% of the time.”
    Cowler is again incorporating projector technology to bring the audience into Oz.
    “I use the Unity 3D software program, generally used for developing 3D games, to create the virtual world of Oz” said Cowler. “The biggest challenge is coordinating all the stage action to seamlessly tie in with the video that’s continuously projected onto a 20-foot screen on the back wall of the stage throughout the show.”
    OrSVP sponsors include Zamboni’s Pizza, Gepetto’s Café and Seawolf Press. Seawolf Press, located in Orinda, publishes classic books and is donating copies of The Wonderful Land of Oz book to be sold at the ticket booth during performances as a fundraiser for OrSVP.
    Marty Nemko, career coach and radio personality, is generously donating his time to perform pre-show and intermission piano music on opening night of all three OrSVP productions. Nemko’s music was greatly appreciated by the audience of the first production, Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero, and he will again be performing July 22 for the opening of The Wonderful Land of Oz.
    Performances run Friday and Saturday nights at 8:30 p.m., July 22 through Aug. 13, with one Sunday matinee at 4 p.m., Aug. 7, and one Thursday performance, Aug. 11 at 8 p.m. All shows are at the amphitheater in the Orinda Community Center Park. For more information, visit or call 925.528.9225.
    OrSVP is completely volunteer run and no one at the theater is paid. Anyone interested in any aspect of theater who would like to help is encouraged to contact the group at or 925.528-9225.

David Dierks can be reached at

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