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‘Lions and tigers and bears ... and a marriage ... oh my!’

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Alex Pawlowski and Mariel Hildenbrand

PRINCETON— Once upon a time in Princeton, a theater actor and a stage manager came together in the workings of Festival 56’s summer production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Within a week, the actor and stage manager began what they originally believed to be an innocent summer romance, destined to end when the 2009 season came to a close. But as time went on, the couple got to know each other better and came to a realization that neither of them wanted to part.

Two years later, after surviving their ever-changing theater careers, the actor decided to make his once stage manager forever his when he asked for her hand in marriage – and the storybook romance continues to this day.

On Saturday, actor Alex Pawlowski and stage manager Mariel Hildenbrand, now both of Milwaukee, Wis., will return to Princeton to exchange vows on the stage where they first met and worked together in the Grace Performing Arts Center. Festival 56 Executive Director Dexter Brigham will marry the couple.

“It’s only fitting because he is the man who brought us together, and he is a good man,” said Hildenbrand.

Pawlowski and Hildenbrand will celebrate their marriage with a reception to follow at Chapel Hill, complete with a Cinderella-like carriage to bring them in to meet family and friends.

Although the two only shared a few months together in Princeton, the “small town with big drama” kept coming to mind.

“It was obviously a very special place for both of us; it’s where we met and fell in love, but it was also close to where Mariel is from in the Chicago suburbs,” Pawlowski said.

He admitted he also always visioned himself getting married on stage in a theater.

“So (the Grace Performing Arts Center) is the perfect venue for our wedding,” he said.

During the reception, the couple has decided to tie-in the “Wizard of Oz” theme by using Dorothy-fabric covered baskets filled with apples on the tables, and they will be using four main “Wizard of Oz” garden gnome figurines to greet guests.

Brigham’s son, Cullen, will be the ring bearer, and the actor who played the coroner munchkin from the Festival 56 production of “The Wizard Oz” will be back to be the soundboard operator “making all the magic happen,” the couple said.

After the wedding, the two will be following their own yellow brick road to Runaway Bay in Jamaica for a five-day honeymoon.

“It’s an all inclusive resort. We are very excited to be traveling out of the country together,” Hildenbrand said.

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