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In ‘Chasing Rainbows,’ creators shoot for Broadway

Director Jeff Whiting talks about the talented Ruby Rakos as a young Judy Garland. Director Jeff Whiting talks about the talented Ruby Rakos as a young Judy Garland.

FLAT ROCK — Looking for a theater to launch “Chasing Rainbows,” the story of Judy Garland’s rise to fame as a young actress, Tina Marie Casamento Libby had something specific in mind.

She needed a theater of Broadway quality that was not on Broadway.

The Flat Rock Playhouse fit the bill.

“We’re going to get a chance to see how it works on its feet,” Libby said during a meet and greet with Playhouse board members, supporters and the media at Flat Rock Studios. “Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz” is the story of how Baby Frances Gumm, who was not much older than a toddler when she first began singing on stage, became Judy Garland and then became Dorothy in one of the most popular films of all time.

Libby says she was obsessed as a young girl with Judy Garland, how she had overcome adversity in her life, losing her father at age 14, and yet battling as an underdog to pursue her own dream over the rainbow.

After its run here Nov. 27 through Dec. 19, Libby and her team will tweak the show back home in New York before staging it next September at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn. The creative team includes her husband, musical arranger David Libby, and director and choreographer Jeff Whiting. The script was written by Marc Acito, who wrote “Allegiance,” the musical about the Japanese-American internship of World War II that opened Sunday on Broadway starring George Takei in his Broadway debut. The play won the Craig Noel Award for Outstanding New Musical after its launch in San Diego.

A theater patron who goes to see “Chasing Rainbows” may influence how it ultimately comes out just by laughing — or not — or by clapping — or not.

“We’ll learn things as we watch the audience react,” Whiting said. “We’ll be able to hear what’s working and what’s not working and that absolutely will contribute to the next version.”

“We’re going to get a chance to hear the audience respond,” Libby said. “We’re going to get to make changes that we think need to be made based on the audience’s feedback.”

Libby chose Flat Rock because she liked its leadership and its production team.

“Lisa Bryant,” she said when asked why she picked this theater. “She has the heart and the brains to understand the quality of the piece and I don’t mean that about my piece. She is somebody who can see the bigger vision and I feel like with Lisa and her staff in this stage in this beautiful community we can actually see how people respond. There’s just so much good about doing it here. I just feel like it’s a perfect place to try it out. It’s a good place to see how the community reacts and make all the changes that we need to get there.”

She praised the Playhouse’s set designers, costumers, production managers and state manager. “I’m very proud to become a Vagabond,” she said. “I just am sorry I never got the chance to act here.”

Besides the professional cast, the play includes major parts for young actors here playing Judy Garland as a child — Baby Frances Gumm — and Shirley Temple, and a youth ensemble of 17.

She and her team found a strong pool of talent when 80 to 100 kids tried out. She knows all their names, and talks enthusiastically about their gifts on stage. They call her Tina Marie, or sometimes Aunt T.M.

“Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz” opens Nov.
17 and runs Dec. 19 at the Flat Rock Playhouse.
Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased by calling
the Playhouse Box Office at 828-693-0731 or