For ‘Wizard of Oz’ star, there really is no place like home

Austin native Hannah Roberts stars as Dorothy in long-running Zilker Park production.


Highlights

Zilker Theatre Productions’ summer musical has been an Austin tradition for 59 years.

In many ways the Zilker Summer Musical is a microcosm of everything that makes summer in Austin special.

When she was 10 years old, Hannah Roberts stepped onto the stage at the Zilker Hillside Theater and looked out into the crowd.

The native Austinite didn’t really know what a musical was when her mom suggested she audition for the part of Amaryllis in “The Music Man,” but after a summer of playing her, Roberts was certain: The stage was where she was meant to be.

This summer, she’s stepping onto that same stage again, but now she’s doing it in ruby slippers — she’s Dorothy in this year’s Zilker Summer Musical, “The Wizard of Oz.”

“The first time I sang ‘Over the Rainbow’ on that stage I had a moment like, ‘Wow, how did I get here?’” said Roberts, now 18. “I’m on the same stage, but I’m a completely different person. I’ve learned so much about theater since when I was 10.”

Zilker Theatre Productions’ summer musical has been an Austin tradition for 59 years, and in many ways it’s a microcosm of everything that makes summer in Austin special. Children squeal as they catapult themselves down the grassy hill, teenagers lounge on towels after a chilly dip in Barton Springs, and multigenerational families gather on quilts to eat fried chicken as the sun begins to sink. Because the show is always free, the primary concern for audience members is to arrive early enough to snag a good spot on the hill.

RELATED: What’s the real temperature at Barton Springs Pool? Hint: It’s not 68 degrees

“Once you come, you’ll probably make it a tradition,” said producer Peter Beilharz, flanked by a cow and a chicken coop — props for the production’s Kansas set — backstage before a recent show. “What’s really important to know is that this is being provided for free.”

After every performance, when the cast greets the crowd, Roberts finds herself surrounded by enthusiastic young fans who wrap their arms around her blue-and-white dress and say they want to be just like her when they grow up.

“The idea of singing in front of 2,000 people is really nerve-wracking at first, but it’s not as scary when you realize you’re making a lot of tiny little kids happy,” she said. “They give me big hugs and they’re all so excited. They embrace the show, and they’re not afraid to say hi.”

RELATED: Zilker Theatre’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is fun for parents and their munchkins

Roberts savors these moments because she knows they’re fleeting. This fall, the Westlake High School graduate will follow her own yellow brick road to Otterbein University in Ohio, where she’ll study musical theater.

“I kind of feel like Dorothy’s journey is similar to mine. She’s a girl who wants better, wants bigger,” Roberts said. “I think I relate to her always wanting more.”

Still, Roberts knows her last performance as Dorothy in August won’t be easy.

She’ll stand on the same stage she’s graced since she was 10 and look into that same big crowd as the show’s final words ring out across a hillside covered in a blanket of stars: “There’s no place like home.”

Roberts, of all people, knows that’s true.

“It’s going to be a very heartfelt performance,” she said. “It’s going to be so hard to say goodbye. It’s an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Austin360

Here are 10 Texas whiskeys you might want on your holiday wish list
Here are 10 Texas whiskeys you might want on your holiday wish list

Kentucky isn’t the only state in the U.S. making top-of-the-line whiskey. Texas may not have been doing it for as long as America’s bourbon bastion, but our proud state has proven that we can still hold our own against legacy producers — perhaps in part because the whiskey industry here is still so young and willing to be adventurous...
2017 Beaujolais Nouveau wine label is created by a St. Petersburg artist
2017 Beaujolais Nouveau wine label is created by a St. Petersburg artist

Every year, there are bad things we can count on: taxes and death. And good things: Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November and on the Thursday before, the Beaujolais nouveau arrives. What is less predictable is just how this vin de l'annee ("this year's wine") stacks up. Every now and then the young gamay from the Beaujolais...
Holiday gift guide: Food
Holiday gift guide: Food

These gifts will satisfy the appetites of the food and drink lovers on your list. The nubby handles take a little getting used to, but they encourage a proper knife grip by directing the hand into the proper position and enabling fingers to lock in the front and back. The forged steel eight-inch chef's knife and 3.5-inch paring knife slice cleanly...
Of pints and predators: inside the U.K. Parliament’s boozy hangouts
Of pints and predators: inside the U.K. Parliament’s boozy hangouts

LONDON — A plaque on a wall at the Sports and Social Club, a dingy and stuffy bar located next to garbage cans in the basement of the Houses of Parliament in London, reads: “The Code of the Man Cave. What happens here stays here! Violators will be shot — survivors will be shot again.” That jokey warning took on serious undertones...
Tom Baker to make cameo appearance in lost 'Doctor Who' episode
Tom Baker to make cameo appearance in lost 'Doctor Who' episode

Tom Baker, who starred in “Doctor Who” from 1974 to 1981, is returning to the BBC’s cult television series in a cameo role in a completed version of an episode that was never finished, the New Musical Express reported. Baker, 83, will appear in “Shada,” an episode that was left unfinished 38 years ago. Baker starred...
More Stories