Sarah Braun, Helen Sher, Michael Trainer and David Ferrier take the stage in this adaptation of three L. Frank Baum tales. Credit: Gerald van Wilgen
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is such an iconic children’s story that it has long eclipsed the rest of author L. Frank Baum’s extensive body of work. One year after Dorothy first followed the Yellow Brick Road, for instance, Baum published “American Fairy Tales,” a collection of 12 stories meant as a homegrown complement to familiar European tales.
“I think he may have been competing with the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, though these stories are not nearly as gruesome,” says Michelle Pauls, who is co-directing a production of three of Baum’s stories for Walking Fish Theatre’s annual holiday offering. “They’re kind of sweet and old-fashioned.”
The stories were adapted by Pauls’ co-artistic director of Walking Fish’s resident B. Someday Productions and co-director of the show, Stan Heleva. The directors discovered Baum’s stories after another of his books, “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus,” served as the inspiration for last year’s far less family-friendly Christmas show, “The Early Adventures of Santa Claus – A Yuletide Burlesque.”
The tales seemed a good fit for the theater’s intimate space and for the interactivity that they like to integrate into their family shows, which includes joining in a dance sequence, singing along with seasonal favorites and becoming the victims of (temporary) larceny during “The Box of Robbers.”
The stories chosen for the production also include “The Queen of Quok” and “The Girl Who Owned a Bear” — little-known, certainly, but not wholly unfamiliar for anyone who’s read or seen the film based on Baum’s best-known work. “In two of the stories, there are girl protagonists who are left alone by their families,” Pauls says. “They have very rich imaginations like Dorothy. You’re left wondering at the end if everything really happened or if they just dreamed it all up.”
The cast of “American Fairy Tales” includes two young alumni of Walking Fish’s Fun with Acting and Acting for Teens classes, 16-year-old Michael Trainer and 12-year-old Helen Sher. Their involvement is an aspect of the company’s efforts to reach out to the Kensington community. “Our mission is to be an arts hub for our community and to provide opportunities for creative expansion,” Pauls explains. “Part of that is to nurture younger talent. My hope is that they’ll not only have a great time but that they’ll learn what it’s like to work in professional productions, as well as be inspiring to other young people who come to see the show.”