The Four-Legged Star of The Wizard of Oz

Krista Connor

The tour stops in Wilmington through Nov. 19, and its leading pup is causing quite the buzz

Toto isn’t in Kansas anymore. In fact, he’s here in Wilmington through Sunday, Nov. 19, on The Wizard of Oz tour, making the Playhouse on Rodney Square one of its nearly 100 stops.

“Toto” – aka Murphy, a 4-and-a-half-year-old white Brussels Griffon/Cairn Terrier mix – falls seamlessly into character, says Murphy’s owner and the show’s musical director, Lizzie Webb. An impressive feat, especially since he has no special training.

His illustrious career began on Feb. 5, 2016, when Webb adopted him from the ASPCA in Chandler, Ariz. He was immediately welcomed by the theater world, where Webb has served as adjunct professor of Musical Theater at the University of Montana, as well as directing and writing shows for Zootown Cabaret, and music-directing mainstage shows like this one. Back then, Murphy started out as a trusty backstage companion to cast and crew and a pit orchestra puppy, sleeping at Webb’s feet while she played piano and conducted shows.

“He was very calm, and handled everything really well,” says Webb. “During the very next show that called for a dog, I asked the director if he wanted to use Murphy.”

He got the role. He’d be Willoughby in Mary Poppins, and later went on to play Toto on a tour prior to this one.

Now, Murphy’s a veteran performer. But during that first Wizard of Oz show, when the audience clapped wildly for him upon his entrance on stage side-by-side with the leading lady, he succumbed to the glory of his newfound fame. He ran off the stage and straight into the crowd to greet his adoring fans – with “Dorothy,” red heels flying, in pursuit down the aisles.

Perhaps wiser now that he’s nearing 5 – or maybe he’s been seasoned by tour life – he’s unperturbed by distractions. “He’s extremely calm and laidback,” says Webb. “Every once in a while he’ll look and see me in the front, but then he gets his focus back.”

His main role during performances consists of being held by the actress playing Dorothy, which he loves, says Webb, so it’s a win-win. During this tour, Webb’s favorite moment of him is during the opening scene; when Dorothy performs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” he attentively watches her sing.

“He’s so sweet and it really adds to the song and it makes it that much more special,” says Webb.

Off-stage, the pup is just as beloved. On the road he has full run of the tour bus, says Webb, and he divides his time wandering from lap to lap, cuddling with any of the 40 cast and crew members.

Murphy’s life is more glamorous than most humans could hope for. “He has his own all-access pass on his leash so that he can get into the theaters,” says Webb. “One of our hotels set up a [dog] bed and silver dishes for him. Today, we got to tour Independence Hall and he got to see some history in Philadelphia.”

Truly, can you think of a better rags-to-riches tale? He even has his own hashtag, #montanamurphy.

Travel down the Yellow Brick Road and beyond with Dorothy, Toto and their friends the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow in this production, featuring special effects, choreography and classic songs. This spectacular celebration of the iconic 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz will blow you away from the moment the tornado touches down and transports you to Oz, complete with munchkins and flying monkeys. Tickets range from $40-$75. Performance times are: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16; 8 p.m. Nov. 17; 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 18; 2 p.m. Nov. 19.

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