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  • Off to see the wizard

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  • The Children's Musical Theatre of Ashland stages 'The Wizard of Oz'
    The young girl appears lost. As she and her little dog try to figure out where the tornado has dropped them, the girl says cautiously, "Toto. I have the feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." And from behind the flowers comes a chorus of giggles.
    We're not in Kansas. We're in a rehearsal of the Children's Musical Theatre of Ashland's production of the classic musical, "The Wizard of Oz."
    The rehearsal is in full swing in a conference room downstairs at the Ashland YMCA. The actual performance will take place on the Center Stage at Southern Oregon University.
    There are children everywhere. One by one they emerge from the bathrooms in costume and makeup. A green-faced witch is looking for red lipstick.
    "Were her lips really red?" someone asks. "I thought they were black."
    "No, they're red," says the witch.
    And she should know. She and her cast members have been rehearsing and checking out details with the original 1932 film.
    "We have not showed (the movie) to them but we've told them to watch it and get into their characters," says production coordinator Rhonda Taylor.
    Parent Kelly Moore is sitting on the floor sewing a magnificent gown for the Good Witch Glinda. All three of Moore's children are in the play. Thane Taylor walks by in a very convincing Tin Man costume made by Moore, who is trying to duplicate costumes from the movie as much as possible.
    There are two casts of leads, the seven main characters: Dorothy, Aunt Em, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North. The older leads (ages 13-17) are in the "ruby" cast. The younger leads (9-12) are in the "emerald" cast. Everybody else is in both casts, making for a total of more than 50 children.
    "Two people came all the way down from Eagle Point, three from Jacksonville, quite a few from Medford and Talent and the rest from Ashland," Taylor says. There are six special Munchkins who are 5- and 6-year-olds. "They are in all performances, but only one scene," Taylor explains, "to give them a little taste of theater and see what it's all about." There will be five days of performances with the younger cast and seven days with the older cast.
    Mac the dog enters. He won the audition for the part of Toto.
    "He is part Cairn terrier, which is what the real Toto was," Taylor says. Mac seems to know his way around the stage and makes a point to bark convincingly at the Wicked Witch.
    "I went to California to get some sets and costumes from a theater," Taylor says as she begins the kind of story that is part of the fun and craziness of theater. "Another Mom and I drove them back on a flatbed trailer. A whole costume rack fell off. It wasn't tied right."
    A lot of mothers and fathers are involved in a variety of ways, including helping with painting and making sets. The set designer is Nate Brackney, a senior at SOU who also works at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as a painter and set designer.
    When the rehearsal gets under way, about 40 kids are watching. They are paying attention, sitting in chairs facing the stage and not wriggling or talking. Even though they aren't on stage in this scene, they are engaged.
    Tucker Reed is the ruby-cast Dorothy. She has that same earnestness and concerned voice that Judy Garland had. Close your eyes when she is singing and you could be hearing a 1940's cabaret chanteuse.
    "I really like 'The Wizard of Oz,' " Reed says. She's been performing since she was 8. "I moved here from California and been performing here since fifth grade. It's something I really enjoy," she says.
    Reed, who has been taking singing lessons since she was 8, performs with a band in Ashland, "Turned Up Missing," which plays her original compositions. Referring to the scene with the Munchkins she admits, "That's why I decided to do the show. They're so adorable. I couldn't pass it up."
    James Edson (Mayor of Munchkinland, flying monkey and an Ozian) says "This is my biggest show that I've been in. It's really nice. You get to meet a lot of people. (Acting as the Mayor) you have to be really old and do all this stuff to make you look old. I actually get the Scarecrow's straw and throw it out. Some of it's fun and some of it's not fun. You have to get your lines down and wait for those who haven't."
    Aisha Wand is the show's choreographer. "It's been a great experience working with such a vast age difference. A wonderful challenge. We're trying to make it as close to the film as possible. The Munchkin and Ozian scenes are filled with the entire ensemble. They work really well together as a team helping each other."
    "With a flying monkey, Dorothy, the Witch on harness &
    8212; that adds another choreography," Wand says. ZFX Flying Illusions, a flying stage effects company from Las Vegas, will come in, set up the equipment and train people how to use it. They're another of the many pairs of hands that help make the production happen. "It kind of takes a village to put on a show like this," Wand says.
    CMTA's artistic director John Taylor arranged, orchestrated, performed and recorded all the music and sound effects for the show's soundtrack. His take on the show and working with the young actors: "It's awesome. This is like a great complement to my professional musical career to help kids discover the magic of being on the stage."
    Featured at the Saturday, Sept. 23, evening show will be original 1939 MGM film Munchkins Margaret "Sleepyhead" Pellegrini and Clarence "The Soldier" Swensen. Only nine of the original Munchkins are still alive. There will be a special 83rd birthday party for Pellegrini on the SOU stage with invited local dignitaries.

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