Whenever Diane Shumway roams the hall of Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, she says she can feel the magic.
It lives in the walls, the stage, the people. And, last year, just before Studio 3’s final performance of its annual “Mixed Nuts” mash-up — a dance and music meld of “The Nutcracker” storyline and a theme of her choice — she found the magic within herself.
“Before we were even done with the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ theme, a new idea came into my head and I got so excited about it,” Shumway recalled. “In fact, it was so weird, one of the moms came up to me right after I hatched this idea, within 15 minutes, and she said, ‘I’ve got a great idea for your show next year. Why don’t you do “The Wizard of Oz?”’
“I just said to myself, ‘Is there a hidden microphone somewhere? How could this woman have gotten this right when I did?’” she continued with a laugh. “It was so bizarre.”
With a full year to work out the Bridgehampton studio’s eighth annual rendition, rehearsals with Shumway’s cast of 37 — age 5 to 17 — are smoother than usual, she noted, and for the first time ever, the focus is entirely on the students.
“We’re not bringing in anyone from the outside, we don’t have anyone older,” the studio founder and artistic director said. “It’s pure, 100-percent our dancers from the studio.”
A combination of ballet, contemporary and jazz, the production will kick off on Friday night at Bay Street Theater, with Dorothy, Auntie Em and Toto, on their farm in Kansas. The young girl is having a Christmas Eve party that night, and all of her friends are invited.
But in a departure from the traditional “Nutcracker,” the classic ballet’s dancing dolls are the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. The magical godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, is fortune-teller Professor Marvel. The Rat King is the Wicked Witch of the West. And the nutcracker itself is a Glinda the Good Witch doll, accidentally broken by Toto.
Then, in comes the cyclone — in place of the famous “Nutcracker” battle scene — flipping the night over the rainbow and dumping all the main characters into “The Land of Oz,” instead of “The Land of Sweets.”
“We still have all of those divertissements, but we’re calling the three dancers that were Marzipan the Lullaby League, and the intro music is from ‘Wizard of Oz,’” Shumway said. “Instead of gingerbread kids coming out of a gingerbread house, those are the Lollypop Guild, with three little ones.”
Finding the parallels between “The Nutcracker” and “The Wizard of Oz” has made this production Shumway’s favorite yet, she said.
“It was fun to put together — to me, much more fun than last year. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is so complex and we had so many things we had to recreate,” Shumway said. “I think this ‘Wizard of Oz’ is such a classic. Everybody knows it so well, everybody loves it. Just to see what we’re doing with it, it came out really beautiful.”
This year, the choreographer will be watching the studio tradition unfold from the wings — perhaps taking to the dark and cavernous theater hallways for a bit of inspiration.
“I can’t wait for this run, so I can see what next year’s will be,” she said. “‘Mixed Nuts’ has grown on me, for sure. It was exciting at first. Then, it becomes a bit of drudgery coming up with ideas and costumes. But now, I think it’s become so special and so endearing to all the kids and their parents that I can’t imagine not doing it — and, especially, the fact that we’re always doing it in that same space with that same magic.”
Studio 3 will present “Mixed Nuts” on Friday, December 14, at 7 p.m., at Bay Street Theater, located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. Additional performances will be held on Saturday, December 15, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, December 16, at 1 p.m. For more information, visit dancestudio3.com.