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Somewhere over the rainbow ... a star is born!

Wet paw prints covered the driveway of Premier West Bank Saturday as Children's Musical Theater of Ashland held auditions for the role of Toto in their production of "The Wizard of Oz."

Ten to 15 dogs auditioned for the role, ranging from a two-month-old teacup poodle to a black Labrador Retriever that out-weighed Dorothy by 20 pounds.

"I think this was a good idea," said Tucker Reed, who, at 15 years-old, is the older of the production's two Dorothys.

Nine-year-old Anne Skinner, the younger Dorothy, is hefting around aspiring Toto's to test compatibility. One tried to get loose, despite plying him with treats.

"Oh," she squeaked. "Feisty little guy!"

"I think this is fun," said Aurelie Grierson, 13, who will be playing the Scarecrow, "I'm a big animal person and it's so cool to be around all these animals."

"This is another really nice opportunity for dog lovers in Ashland," said Veterinary Assistant Victoria Wade. "Here, man's best friend can put their best foot forward."

Winners of the "Where's Toto" contest, in addition to being showcased in the production, will receive a full year's supply of dog food. In return for their $15 entry fee, aspiring canine thespians that didn't make the cut were assuaged with dog care goodies and treats, a bath and a cursory check-up, compliments of Dr. Alice Sievers of Bear Creek Animal Clinic.

Proceeds of the "Where's Toto" contest benefited Court Appointed Special Advocates of Jackson County. CASA has 150 volunteers who advocate for abused or neglected children throughout the Rogue Valley who have become wards of the court. CASA, whose case load has outgrown its resources due to the growing Rogue Valley methamphetamine problem, needs help like from the CMTA.

"Right now we serve 325 children, but have 400 more waiting," said Jennifer Mylenek, CASA executive director. "We see a lot of sad things, this is definitely one of the more fun ones!"

Off by the bank, several kids emitting high-pitched noises have a small black dog cornered as they hose him off. They realize that they are out of soap and as Victoria Wade races to get more, the dog looks confused. The elementary-aged dog washers scramble to rectify the situation. Off a bit, another little black dog urinates on a boy with mismatched socks who immediately runs for the hose.

The Wizard of Oz is CMTA's second production since its inception a year ago. Their first production, "Grease " drew favorable response from the community. When the Taylor's started their youth troupe, they had one thing in mind. "Every child who auditions gets in the show."

"Yup," said Maxwell Samuel-Garloff. "I'm Winky, and a flying monkey and an Ozian "&

166;"

One munchkin, however, is grumpy about her station. "I should be a monkey. I'm a good climber," insisted 7-year-old Shoshana Sharp while playing with her hair.

John Taylor, who had previously worked with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, cites his own musical theater experience as a youth for his fascination with this theater. "I would never have had the motivation or confidence to pursue a career in music if not for that experience. Here we want to build the confidence and self-esteem of youth in the Rogue Valley.

"Our goal is to be able to build our own theater structure within five years. We want to put on four productions a year and showcase one thousand kids per year," said Taylor. "We've put everything we have into this. We need some people with vision to contribute."

Today, winners are announced. For the "Ruby" cast: Mac, a 6 year-old Cairn Terrier mix, owned by Pam Lawson of Ashland. For the "Emerald" cast: Max, a 2 month-old Toy Poodle, owned by Chloe Bair of Ashland. The first alternate is Emi, an 11-year-old Affen Pincher, owned by Herbert and Frances Petscher of Ashland. The second alternate is Ben, a 2-year old Cairn Terrier, owned by Donna Ritchie of Ashland.

The Wizard of Oz will be performed September 14-17 and 21-24, each evening at 7 p.m. with — p.m. matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, call CMTA at 778-3365.