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Wizard of Oz

Nicholas Pearson (right), Kalie Kaimann (left) and Murphy on stage in Apex Touring's national production of "Wizard of Oz." Murphy is owned by Music Director Lizzie Webb, a UM graduate. Webb and her fiancee Scoob Decker will bring "Oz" to the Adams Center on Feb. 1.

After more than 300 shows, the cast and crew of "Wizard of Oz" are OK with the occasional wrench thrown in their plans. It shakes things up, you know.

Although it’s still never fun to have the bus break down, as it did recently on the way to the airport in California.

“Things like this have happened before,” Music Director Lizzie Webb said. “It’s definitely part of it.”

Webb, along with her fiancé Scoob Decker, is a Kalispell native who graduated from the University of Montana and worked on many community theater shows in Missoula. They've been on the road with Apex Touring's "The Wizard of Oz" since October 2017.

Decker is in the cast and their terrier Murphy plays Toto.

The three got involved with "Oz" after Webb’s roommate got an audition, and she asked if they needed a music director, or a dog for Toto (Murphy is also an actor).

The three got jobs and embarked on their first tour together, after a couple of years of touring separate productions, which quickly grew tiring.

“When you’re in this business, you have to take a job when you get it,” Webb said. “It’s really exciting to be on tour with your significant other.”

And with their little dog, too.

Murphy got his job the quickest, Webb said, adding the casting directors “saw him and they knew.”

“He had been in two shows,” she said. “Murphy pretty much was cast in the show right away.”

Murphy had been in an MCT production of "Mary Poppins" and "The Wizard of Oz," and had been to work with Webb many times, laying under her chair while she directed, growing well-used to the noise and bustle of the theater.

He’s holding up well on his first tour, aside from the occasional problem in the airport.

“Having a dog on tour is, for everybody, nice and a stress relief,” Webb said.

Stress relief is key for a production that travels across the country for shows in California, then Wyoming, then Idaho, all by plane and bus no matter the weather.

The crew and stage (including backdrops, sets and scenery pieces) arrive at each location by truck, ready to set up the production the morning of the show.

A disparate string of venues makes for some last-minute changes, depending on the size and layout of each space.

The show is designed for a large theater, but the production plays in arenas, smaller theaters and other venues not designed for a stage production.

That forces the crew to abandon certain set pieces or backdrops, changing the show night to night, affecting the actors and orchestra as well.

“It’s nice to have that curveball thrown at you, 'cause it makes you think,” Webb said.

When"Oz" comes to the Adams Center, Webb said the arena-style venue might affect some set pieces, but “it doesn’t take away from the magic of the show.”

If anything, the shows get more dramatic and outsized in an arena venue, because the actors have to fill the larger space.

“Arenas are actually really exciting,” she said. “You feel like you’re in a big rock concert.”

Plus, the lack of an orchestra pit means Webb and her musicians are backstage, which opens up some fun options.

“We get to wear whatever we want to the show, so we’ll wear pajamas or have a theme night,” she said.

Two members of Webb’s orchestra are also UM grads, she noted, drummer Marc McDuff and woodwind player Alex McDowell.

Webb credited the UM music and theater program with turning out “incredible, hard-working people,” with whom she wants to work when she gets the chance.

Good people are key when on the road for months, and being late means you’re holding up 40 people from getting on the bus.

“If you don’t like what you do, performing, then being on tour is not going to be fun,” Webb said. “But if you don’t like changes, then a tour isn’t going to be fun for you either.

“In order to get the most out of it, you have to … love the unpredictability of it all.”

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Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.