Forget the Redgraves and the Barrymores, and say hello to the Checchias, Lancaster’s theatrical dynasty.
Three generations of Checchias will be performing in “The Wizard of Oz,” which opens tonight at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center.
Bob Checchia is playing The Cowardly Lion, a role he played once before many years ago. It’s been on his bucket list to do at EPAC for a long time.
His son, Bobby Checchia, who’s been acting since he was 4, will be playing Nico, the leader of the Winged Monkeys, those creepy primates who do the bidding of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Bobby Checchia’s wife, Elizabeth, will play the infamous witch.
And two of the couple’s kids, Emily, 4, and Hayden, 6, will be playing Munchkins. The youngest, Brianna, is only 1.
“It just kind of happened that we all ended up in the show,” Bobby says.
“Talk about EPAC being a family — it really is,” says Bob, who has been performing at the theater since 2007.
Elizabeth and Bobby have their history with the theater, too. She’s starred in “Chicago” and “Evita,” and he memorably played Rocky in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” They both starred in “Tommy,” and that’s when they started dating.
When “Oz” came along, both Bobby and his father knew they wanted to be in it.
“My husband said to go for it and try out,” Elizabeth says. “I wanted to play the witch. I was never the kind who wanted to play Dorothy. The witch is evil, and it’s so much fun to play.”
In the Royal Shakespeare Co. adaptation EPAC is doing, the witch, in addition to being evil, is funny.
“There’s a lot more to her,” Elizabeth says. “Her journey is a little more challenging. She’s cracking jokes in the tower.”
She is still a formidable character.
“As the lead monkey, the Wicked Witch asks for it, and I get it for her, just like at home,” Bobby says, adding with a laugh.
The couple’s kids are making their theatrical debuts, but they both love attending the Kids4Kids shows that EPAC puts on every year, so it was a no-brainer.
You might be wondering, with mom and dad so busy with the show, how is Christmas being handled at the Checchia’s, where three small children live?
“The decorations were put up weeks ago,” Elizabeth says. “It’s all done.”
For Bob, “The Wizard of Oz” and Christmas go hand in hand.
“All my Christmas decor is Oz-related,” he says.
And that’s not all, as his son recalls.
“My dad had this collection of Oz figurines of iconic scenes from the movie, which we were not allowed to touch when we were kids,” Bobby says. “They were arranged just so in the living room.”
Bob remembers anticipating the annual TV screening every year when he was a kid.
“It was an event every year,” he says. “It’s my favorite movie, and Bert Lahr (who played the Cowardly Lion in the movie), influenced my life.”
So the pressure is on for him to balance the role between what people expect and what he brings to it.
“Everyone knows the lion. Now I’ve got to tweak it and make it genuine onstage without trying to do an impression. It’s a challenge.”
So is the physical performance.
“The lion does a lot of dancing, and the posture of the lion is so distinct. I’ve got to be bow-legged, and my haunches stress my legs and my knees.”
The theatrical version of “Oz” is highly technical, from the tornado to the dramatic entrances and exits of the witch, to the scene where you-know-who melts.
“I’ve never cared so much about a fog machine in my life,” Elizabeth jokes.
“Little things can make or break a production,” Bobby says.
“I’m curious to see how it plays in this space,” Bob says. “It’s so intimate, and it’s tough to stage.”
Almost 50 family members are coming to one production to see the dynasty in action.
Expect loud and long cheers.¶