Much to his dismay, Steve Doyle discovered in 2004 that his voice was giving out.
So Doyle, then a commodities trader accustomed to public speaking, decided to get voice lessons. He turned to James Werner, operatic tenor and musical baritone, for those lessons.
“I’m going to teach you how to sing, but these are exactly the same techniques you’ll need for public speaking,” Doyle recalled Warner saying.
And then, at his second lesson, Werner asked Doyle, “Do you want to be in an opera?”
That was how Doyle became a member of the ensemble and a villager in “The Tales of Hoffmann,” an opera by Jacques Offenbach produced by High Desert Opera in 2004.
After that, “I was hooked,” Doyle said of singing opera and in musicals.
Doyle has since supported and participated in productions with High Desert Opera, which was founded by James and Marnie Werner and has become well known in the Grand Valley for its dynamic New Year’s Eve musicals. Among them are “Mamma Mia!,” “The Sound of Music,” “Les Miserables” and “The Music Man.” Doyle was Charlie Cowell, the salesman, in that one.
This time around, it’s a yellow brick road, ruby slippers and four newly met but very loyal friends who will greet audiences on New Year’s Eve and for three performances to follow in 2020.
“The Wizard of Oz,” directed by James Werner, will feature a large local cast and live orchestra. It will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31, at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4, and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 5, at Robinson Theatre in the Moss Performing Arts Center at Colorado Mesa University.
The musical is the most standard Broadway version with a few additions from the movie and a surprise ending that is a little different than that of the movie, said Marnie Werner, High Desert Opera’s executive director.
The Werners “go about their productions in a very, very professional manner,” said Doyle, who is part of the ensemble and understudy for the Wizard.
Their attitude for every production is, “we’ll give them something that will blow their hats off,” he said.
“The Wizard of Oz” will be no exception. One part of this show that is rather different from past shows is the number of children who are part of the cast as Munchkins, Marnie Werner said.
There are 20 children, and “they are going to steal the show,” Doyle said.
Even during the early rehearsals, which started in September, “they were basically outperforming us,” he said. “Those kids are so good.”
From children to retirees, high school and Colorado Mesa University students, the all-local cast is packed with talent and there is a lot of mentoring that goes on, Werner said.
The live orchestra is made up of a number of Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra members and will be conducted by Scott Betts.
“Live music just makes such a difference,” Werner said, and Doyle agreed. “Man, they are rocking. They sound so good,” he said.
Even when it comes to the sets for “The Wizard of Oz,” there is attention to detail as well as an eye to keeping costs low for those purchasing tickets to the shows. “We do everything ourselves,” Werner said.
In the days leading up to opening night, nearly everyone who is in the show will be at Robinson Theatre building or painting sets or getting other details ready, Doyle said.
“We all have that same love for the High Desert Opera,” he said.