Familiar film has new life on stage
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The legendary 1939 film The Wizard of Oz is almost a universal language, filled with oft-quoted lines and well-known characters. But experiencing the story on stage is something altogether different.
In bringing both the expected and familiar to that experience while bringing the electricity of live performance to the mix, it’s necessary for cast and crew to tap into creativity, energy, and technology.
The result of that collective effort will arrive at the historic Embassy Theatre next week when The Wizard of Oz visits as part of the Broadway at the Embassy series.
Long Island native Nick Gurinsky steps into the role of the Tin Man and understands how high expectations are for the show and the performances.
“The pressure is definitely on,” Gurinsky said in an interview with Whatzup. “The stakes are high because almost everyone has a memory of it. It’s so iconic, and people grew up with it. They watched it every year, or it was part of their holiday. It’s definitely hard to live up to those expectations. But at the same time I have to give it my own interpretation, bring my own personal experiences to it.”
Gurinsky grew up with an appreciation of performing. He recalled one particular experience that put his focus firmly on a path to the theater.
“I was always interested in the theatrical arts, and my high school district had an amazing arts program with music, dance, and theater,” he said. “I do remember distinctly that when I was in third grade, the high school production was Fiddler on the Roof, and my elementary school got to see a performance of that. From the moment the curtain opened to that first iconic scene in the show, I realized that this was something real, something I wanted to do.”
Gurinsky moved to New York shortly after graduating high school and has since spent time touring with productions (including White Christmas) and performing on cruise ships, a gig he says pays well and allows for extensive travel.
He joined The Wizard of Oz in September and will be touring with the show until mid-March. His performance has allowed him to do one thing that Jack Haley’s Tin Man wasn’t able to do.
Tapping Tin Man
“Our Tin Man tap dances,” Gurinsky said. “I tap dance, so it allows me to bring part of me to the role. Luckily my costume is made of lightweight material, so the Tin Man’s stiffness isn’t from a costume like it is in the film. I suggest that stiffness with the physicality of my body. I don’t have those restrictions so I suggest them by moving stiffly and upright. Each of my limbs has a purpose, and each move is very specific so that I have an almost robot-like walk. Then when I’m dancing I try to create a fantasy that the Tin Man is no longer confined by those things.”
One of the most exciting moments of the film comes when Dorothy, knocked out by flying debris during a tornado, awakes to discover she’s not in Kansas anymore. The move from black and white to color marks the beginning of her visit to Oz, and it’s something that requires some finesse to recreate on the stage.
“In the beginning of the show, Kansas is portrayed with a black-and-white color scheme,” Gurinsky said. “We use projections, and the costumes are all black and white and gray. We try to recreate that feeling of the black-and-white film, and then when the tornado takes the house up, it transforms into Oz with that full-color scheme. But the black-and-white portion is about 25 minutes of the first act.”
Gurinsky has several favorite scenes but marks one particular moment of the show as a highlight of his performance.
“I love the scene when we’re saying goodbye to Dorothy as we’re wrapping up the show,” he said. “In that moment I think about the journey of my life. As Dorothy says goodbye to each of us, it reminds us that every person who comes into our lives brings something to our life. And even if they aren’t physically with us anymore, they are still a part of our life. So each night as I say goodbye to Dorothy, I think of a different person who has been part of my journey and say a thank you just for myself. When Dorothy says, ‘There’s no place like home,’ it’s really true. Being on the road like I am can be incredibly hard so it reminds me to just check in but remember that, for now, my journey is taking me to other people’s lives.”
One of the trickier moments in the show comes during that stage transformation from Kansas to Oz. Just as the show is transitioning from black and white to color, Gurinsky is making the switch from farm hand Hickory to the Tin Man, a complete change in costume and makeup. Some nights the process is seamless. Other nights? Not so much.
“When the tornado strikes, we have to hurry downstairs and change into our full costume and makeup, and that can present different challenges,” he said. “Sometimes it goes great. Sometimes you start talking to someone or realize you forgot to replenish your sponges, and you’re running around trying to find those.”
With just a few weeks left in this tour, Gurinsky is enjoying the experience and is grateful for this opportunity to step into the role of the popular Tin Man.
“I love storytelling, and I’m so thankful that I get to do what I love to do, what I think I was born to do. I’m so lucky to be able to do this show and work with this incredible cast and crew, and I’ve met so many amazing people along the way.”
CORRECTION: Our print edition listed the wrong date for this event. The Wizard of Oz lands at the Embassy on Sunday, March 3.