Kelrik Productions has filled a special niche in the Central Coast theater community, with bright, lively, family-friendly shows that often featured seasoned adult actors with youngsters on the way up. So when Kelrik lost its home base, Unity in San Luis Obispo, many theatergoers, especially young families, worried about the loss.
Erik Austin, artistic director of Kelrik, was the most worried. But Austin is embarking on a new season of what he calls “edutainment, theater that both educates and entertains.” The first show of the “Discover 2014” season is “The Wizard of Oz,” to be staged at the Cuesta College Cultural and Performing Arts Center.
“This is a gorgeous state-of-the-art theater,” Austin said. “The saddest part is that no one knows it’s there. We are proud to be one of the first outside companies to perform in this beautiful 400-seat theater.”
The season will continue with “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the Clark Center Studio Theater and “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” at a location still to be confirmed.
It has been six years since Kelrik has presented “The Wizard of Oz.” An early production was in the intimate Unity theater, and the one six years ago was a lavish production in the Spanos Theater at Cal Poly. Both of those shows featured favorite Kelrik actors, most of them repeating their roles.
This is an all-new show, with redesigned costumes and sets and a cast that is new, with one exception, Austin said. An ensemble of 25 children, four years old and up, will play the Munchkins. Cassie Johnson will play Dorothy (she played Ariel in Kelrik’s “The Little Mermaid”).
“She is so much shorter than the Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion and so nice and sweet she is a perfect match for those oddball characters,” Austin said.
He held auditions to get some new faces in the show.
“Adult actors may think it’s a show with a lot of kids and a dog, but the ones we got love playing the roles that they have seen for so long. It’s fun for me because they are excited to be in it.”
As director, Austin said he advised them to pay homage to the 1939 movie, but put their own personalities into the characters. Ed Cardoza is the Tin Man, the role Austin himself played in the previous versions.
“He is so different from me, yet he’s hilarious,” Austin said.
Bret Boyle is the Cowardly Lion and Evan Camacho is the Scarecrow. Mike Mesker, a Kelrik favorite, reprises his role as Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz. Allison King is Glinda, the good witch, and Sandy Riforgiate is the Wicked Witch of the West.
The show opens, like the movie did, in black and white and turns to color after the tornado. The set uses videos and projection for special effects on the large stage.
“The choreography is different, and the dialogue is a bit different. We’re embracing the movie but giving it our own spin,” Austin said.
Austin is busy, teaching at Montessori and at Laguna Middle School, and he will direct the SLO Opera production of “Showboat.” He is also directing shows — mostly former Kelrik productions — at El Portal Theater in Los Angeles. Since he lost Unity, he has been torn between staying in San Luis Obispo or moving to L.A., he said.
“I think this year will be the year that tells me where I’m supposed to be. As Dorothy says, ‘There’s no place like home.’ I’m just not sure where that is.”
IF YOU GO
"The Wizard of Oz"
2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 2
Cultural and Performing Arts Center, Cuesta College, Highway 1, San Luis Obispo
$20 to $35