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Off to hear the wizard

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 19, 2008 - Last summer, Carolyn White saw something and set off in search of ruby slippers.

The associate principal double bassist with the St. Louis Symphony experimented with different fabrics until finding just the right one -- red with shiny red sequins. Next, she tested kinds of glues until finding just the right formula. Then, she took an old pair of shoes and transformed them.

And soon, she did the same for more than 40 pairs of ladies shoes, all because she saw that the St. Louis Symphony would soon be performing "Oz with Orchestra."

"I thought it would be fun if we all had ruby slippers," White says.

Those slippers will bring a flash of red to the dark stage for the symphony's three performances of "Oz With Orchestra." The program, conducted by David Robertson, features the symphony playing the score of the "Wizard of Oz" while the audience watches the classic film on a large screen.

This is nothing like watching the video on a small screen - or even in a cineplex. This is an experience, says John Goberman, the Emmy-award winning producer who dreamt up watching the classic film while listening to the music live and who will be in St. Louis for the performances.

"This is an experience for the audience that you just can't get any other way," Goberman says.

"Oz with Orchestra" was first performed several years ago, but bringing it about had some of the difficulties of following that yellow brick road. The task of even finding the score was impossible, Goberman says, because studios at the time destroyed it.

A colleague recovered the music by listening and recreating -- not a simple task. "Oz" is filled with music in both the musical numbers and under the dialogue.

And the result is experiencing something created long ago with something created live.

"The idea that you are hearing Judy Garland singing songs ... accompanied by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra ... that's really at the heart of it," Goberman says.

Now when people come to see the show, they often dress up, he says.

"Very often, you'll have an audience full of Dorothies and Scarecrows."

While the movie is a classic that most adults remember watching in their childhood, it's not just for children, he stresses, but for everyone. When else, he asks, do you have the chance to watch the movie on a full screen, the way it was intended? Or to see the magical shift from black and white to glowing Technicolor?

"Oh it's wonderful, it's wonderful," says Margaret Pellegrini, an original munchkin from the film. "You wonder how they do it, but it sounds great."

The magic of the film was and still is a reality for Pellegrini, 85, who left her home in Alabama as a 15-year-old to perform in the movie as one of the flower pot munchkins.

Pellegrini will be available for a meet and greet before each performance. At the time, she loved meeting the stars and the glamour of performing in a motion picture, Pellegrini says, but she had no idea the film would become a classic.

But really, she's not surprised. There are reminders about the importance of finding courage, heart, brains and home that still matter today.

And for White, the amateur seamstress and ruby slipper maker, there's another value - recycling all those old shoes into something new was an inexpensive way to create a little magic in a tough economy. And she'll probably wear them again, too.

"I think maybe New Year's Eve."

Kristen Hare is a freelance journalist. 

Kristen Hare

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