When Kami Lyle of Harwich was trying to think herself into the character of Auntie Em in the upcoming production of “The Wizard of Oz,” she at first could not identify with the sometimes-grouchy aunt.
“I was terrified of being Auntie Em because it’s the opposite of who I feel like in general,” Lyle said during a telephone interview last week.
But when she gave it some thought, she realized she did know Auntie Em after all.
“There was a storm coming, so I get it,” she says. “I grew up in the mid-west and we had lots of tornadoes. I know what it feels like to feel super scared.”
In fact, Lyle remembers the experience of hearing the civil defense siren go off when she was alone in the house after school. The drill was to run to the basement with a radio, snacks and candles as the tornado approached.
Auntie Em is also like Lyle’s grandmother who lived on a farm where Lyle spent summers. “I know how hard they worked—non-stop. It’s a whole other life.”
As well as Auntie Em, Lyle will play Glinda, the beautiful good witch, which will be a chance for Lyle to showcase her singing. (Auntie Em does not sing. “I don’t think she has time to sing,” Lyle says.)
This production is a spin on the classic 1939 movie “Wizard of Oz” that we all know so well. The production is a collaboration between the Cape Symphony and the Cotuit Center for the Arts that will mark the final concert of the Cape Symphony’s CapePOPS! Series in the 2018/19 season. The original Harold Arlen score and the movie script will be performed live with actors and the orchestra. The production was inspired by the 1995 television presentation “The Wizard of Oz in Concert.”
Lyle, who graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 1992, is an award-winning singer/songwriter/pianist and trumpet player from Minneapolis. Her debut album, “Blue Cinderella,” was released in 1997. For about five years she has hosted “The Kami Lyle Sit-A-While… real songs, real writers, fake fireplace” show which features nationally-known musicians she brings to Cape Cod. Her songs have appeared in film and television, and she enjoys performing live. She has lived in Harwich since 2004 after living in Nashville, Tenn., where she met and married her husband Joey Spampinato, a founding member and bass player of the band NRBQ.
Yet despite her broad talents, Lyle is modest about her acting experience. She previously performed in the musical review “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” at the Cotuit Center for the Arts. But she learned about open auditions for “Wizard” when trying to look up Cotuit’s address to promote an upcoming gig. “I thought, that’s a good scary thing,” she says of the audition, adding that she likes to force herself to do things that scare her. “The next thing I got the part, and I went, ‘oh, no.’ It’s so scary and such a great experience.”
And “to sing with the symphony—it’s a crazy dream come true.”
The symphony’s Artistic Director and Conductor Jung-Ho Pak sometimes attends rehearsals; other times he may be as far away as California and attends rehearsals through the computer screen. “It totally works,” Lyle says. “He brings a lot of good energy to the whole thing.” She also praises director Michelle Colley.
Karen McPherson, a veteran actor from Chatham, is in the ensemble, which she calls challenging.
“The harmonies are beautiful, and I’m looking forward to how they sound with the entire orchestra,” she says. “The leads are wonderful.”
McPherson also loves working with Pak. “He is such a performer himself, and such a joy to watch. I love his sense of humor and look forward to our rehearsals with him and the symphony, to see what he’s going to ‘pull out of his hat’ comedy-wise. He always injects so much fun into whatever he does.”
Young siblings Florence and Jacob Carlson of Harwich play munchkins.
The show has been in rehearsal now for about a year, with new cast members being added. Originally a puppet or a stuffed toy represented Toto. “Then a dog appeared one day and we’re like ‘oh, yay, there’s a dog,’” Lyle remembers.
“The cast is amazing,” she adds. “Everyone—besides being the nicest people—everyone is so stunningly good. Some scenes make me cry or laugh every single time. It’s going to be a great show.”
The Cape Symphony and Cotuit Center for the Arts will present “The Wizard of Oz In Concert” this Saturday, Feb. 9 at 3 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. at the Barnstable Performing Arts Center, 744 West Main St., Hyannis. For more information or to purchase tickets visit www.capesymphony.org or call 508-362-1111.