Technically, they may only be a size 6, but they are incredibly big shoes to fill. I’m talking about the ruby slippers, probably the most iconic pair of shoes to ever grace a movie screen.
Of course, the shoes themselves did not make the character of Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz” so universally beloved or such a difficult role to assume. It was the woman in them — legendary actress and singer Judy Garland. Only 17 when she played the role in 1939, the American Film Institute (AFI) ranks Garland as the 8th Greatest Female Star of All Time.
So is it intimidating for a young actress to don those shoes and take on that role?
“Absolutely,” says Katherine Yacko, who plays Dorothy in Theatre West Virginia’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” premiering Friday. “You have to take the part and make it your own, make it honest,” Yacko says. “You hope the audience knows that you are not Judy Garland. I do not plan to imitate her. I can’t; it would be foolish.”
Singing ”Over the Rainbow” is another daunting task. The song was actually cut from the movie after a preview. Producers thought it slowed down the pace. It was restored to the finished film, went on to win an Academy Award and was voted the No. 1 movie song of all time by the AFI.
“Again, I can’t sing the song like anyone else has. I can only sing it from the heart,” Yacko says.
The stage adaptation is adapted more from the movie than the book. No version would be complete without the Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Wicked Witch.
One character is not an actor in a costume — little Toto is a real dog, usually perched on Yacko’s right arm. She describes Abby (the dog playing Toto) as a “natural born actress. She is so sweet and obedient that, except for my arm getting tired, I can almost forget she’s there.”
Ironically, for Yacko this is her fifth trip down the Yellow Brick Road.
An Arkansas native and graduate of Oklahoma City University, she first played Dorothy at the age of 12, was in two different “Oz” productions in high school and performed the role in an Educational Touring Company.
As she is well acquainted with Dorothy, Yacko says she sees the character making a transition as the story progresses.
“She’s kind of a whiny pre-teen when it begins,” she explains. “Dorothy lives in her own little bubble, and is interested only in herself and Toto. Then she takes this epic journey — real or imagined — and she realizes just how important family is. She needs her friends and her family; she needs people in her life.”
In other words, whether played by Judy Garland or Katherine Yacko, Dorothy Gale must take a whirlwind journey to a land of Wizards and Munchkins and Wicked Witches — and those sparkling shoes — to learn a universal message: there’s no place like home. How lucky we are she takes us with her!
— Cindy Worley is secretary of the Board of Directors as well as marketing representative for Theatre West Virginia.