Andrea Dotto and Brendan Malafronte have two big trips planned — one down the yellow brick road and the other to the altar.
The Astoria, N.Y., actors, armed with some straw and ruby red slippers, are in Manchester for a several-week run of “The Wizard of Oz,” a journey of self-discovery based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book and the classic 1939 MGM movie.
Dotto is Dorothy Gale, the Kansas girl who discovers a magical realm over the rainbow, and Malafronte is the wobbly scarecrow who finds his footing with a group of unlikely friends.
Dotto, taking on the role a teenage Judy Garland made famous on the big screen, finds kinship with the motley crew of characters at the center of the tale — a tin man who yearns for a heart, a scarecrow who seeks an intellect, a lion who desperately wants some courage and a girl longing for home.
“Everyone can relate (to feelings of being both lost and found),” Dotto said. “There are some moments of the day when you’re completely sure of yourself and other times you need assistance, someone to back you up when you go meet the ‘Wizard’ together, whatever that wizard in our life may be. It’s about going after that goal no matter what obstacles are thrown in your way.”
It’s an apt message for a couple that will embark on their own adventure when they take their vows next summer.
“We’re through Act One of planning for the wedding,” joked Malafronte about rehearsing for one production while staging another.
Opening weekend shows for “The Wizard of Oz” are at 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St.
The production is a homecoming of sorts for Dotto and Malafronte. “The Wizard of Oz” is the seventh show at the Palace for each.
“We love it here. It really is a home away from home,” Dotto said.
“We met here doing ‘Godspell’ about four years ago,” Malafronte added. “To come together in a familiar place and do a show like this … playing the Scarecrow is a dream come true.”
It takes practice to play a character who has no backbone — literally. But playing a scarecrow who always seems just one wobble away from completely losing balance comes naturally to this fan of physical comedy.
“I’m a wobbly person in general, I think,” Malafronte said with a laugh. When I did ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ at the Palace, I was the Donald O’Connor character (who famously hammed it up in the song “‘Make ’Em Laugh’). I’ve grown up with physical comedians like Laurel and Hardy — and watching ‘Wizard of Oz’ on TV when it aired once a year. It was a big process. Everyone sat down to watch it.
“I get them physically,” Malafronte said of his stage and screen inspirations. “It’s like any other kids who do a funny walk for their parents and get a laugh and realize (that it landed). I feel like it’s a lifetime in preparation for this role. It’s very freeing. To explore what happens if (the Scarecrow’s) shoulders are about to fall forward, what happens if he can’t use one of his legs ... It’s just a fun game that you have to play.”
As with the iconic movie, the musical finds Malafronte playing two roles — one as a farm hand on the Gale family’s homestead and another in his scarecrow guise when in the Land of Oz. (Ray Bolger played those parts on the big screen, with Bert Lahr as Zeke/The Cowardly Lion and Jack Haley as Hickory/The Tin Man.)
Dotto will don the trademark red shoes and braids, but expect some updated visuals when it comes to costuming overall.
“We’ve taken what we know and really made it more funky, more current and edgy,” she said. “Kansas, to Dorothy, is boring and drab and one dimensional, and then we go to Oz and that technicolor moment. We are finding that for ourselves, too.”
Jessica Moryl again handles costume design, with Emily Mitchell as wardrobe supervisor and Grace McLaughlin as costume assistant.
“Our Oz has its own stamp to it,” Malafronte added. “You still see the Scarecrow and immediately know who he is, but with a different twist to it.”
The production also will include a jitterbug number that was cut from the movie before its release.
“Whenever we’re coming to the Palace, we always know we’re going to get an incredible dance number — being pushed (by artistic director Carl Rajotte) to limits I didn’t know I was capable of doing,” Malafronte said.
Himself handling dual roles, Rajotte also is lighting designer for “The Wizard of Oz.”
What: “The Wizard of Oz”
When: Opening this weekend, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The production runs through Sunday, Oct. 6.
Where: The Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
Tickets: $25 to $46.
Info: palacetheatre.org or 668-5588