Union Pines Is Off to See the Wizard
Click your heels together three times, and if you are lucky, you will be in the auditorium of Union Pines High School this weekend for the theater department's production of "The Wizard of Oz."
But if you think that you're just going to see a rehashing of the Judy Garland film version, think again. As Summer Hennings, who plays Glinda, puts it, "The stage creates an entirely different magic and brings new life to the already much-loved, magical story."
The basic story remains the same. Dorothy Gale, frustrated with life in small town Kansas, dreams of somewhere over the rainbow. During a tornado, she suffers a bump on the head and wakes up at the edge of the yellow brick road. The characters are the ones we know and love: Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, Glinda, the Wicked Witch and the Wizard. The musical numbers are familiar as well, but, as Keegan Hooper (the Wizard) points out, "There is more to them on the stage. The characters interact more together during the songs, and in some cases, the songs themselves have more verses."
Staging "The Wizard of Oz" has its challenges.
"The production process is crazy," says Eli Ring, the Tin Man. "Weekend rehearsals, all-day rehearsals, all-night rehearsals. But in the end, it's very rewarding."
The Cowardly Lion, Mac Boorman, agrees, and also points to the familiarity of the musical.
"My greatest challenge was the pressure of fulfilling my character," he says, "and knowing that people are relying on me to be precise."
Because this is a student production, the actors have to adapt to more than just well-known characters.
"The hardest part for me is juggling playing varsity soccer and rehearsals for the musical," says Hennings. "It has been a constant whirl of rehearsals, practices, run-throughs and games."
Like Ring and Boorman, though, it's all worth it for Hennings.
"I'm not going to lie," she says with a giggle. "I love getting the chance to wear a pouffy pink dress."
Fortunately, the troupe has director Judy Osborne and music director Cathy McCanless to oversee the production process.
"None of this would be possible without Mrs. Osborne," Ring says. "She and Mrs. McCanless devote three months to making every show better than the one before."
The cast also points to their stage managers, Rhys Walter, Erica Porter and Nicte Guillen, as being instrumental to their success.
"The show could never happen without them," Boorman says.
Dorothy Gale is played by Kayla Lively, a senior in her second musical.
"Dorothy is a dreamer," she says. "She reminds me of my younger years of aspiring to be a superhero. I love how innocent she is. A singing tree is not too far-fetched for her, and she will console a crying lion. Her message for the audience is that nothing is out of reach and to never underestimate your own abilities."
Playing such a well-known character carries a lot of expectations, but Lively is not intimidated.
"I keep in mind the original intent of the character, but also add my own interpretation and vision," she says. "She's still Dorothy, but she's not Judy Garland's Dorothy."
Perhaps the most anticipated character is the Wicked Witch, whom Blake Schrein plays with gusto.
"In this version, she does supply some comedic relief, but for the most part, she's the person you love to hate," Schrein says with a smile. "I play her black to the soul, because if I find something good about her, I can't fully express her evil."
Judy Osborne has been pleased with the costumes and make-up, particularly Schrein's. But for the actress, it comes down to the voice.
"I kept practicing until I got the voice and the scream down," says Schrein.
Everyone involved with the production believes that their musical is evidence of the importance of arts programs in schools.
"The arts are my passion," Hennings says. "They bring creativity and joy to my life."
"Schools need to have a vital arts program because it helps not only with social experiences, but educational ones as well," he says. "I believe the greatest thing someone can do is bring joy to others, and arts programs definitely accomplish that."
"The Wizard of Oz" shows Friday, March 12, and Saturday, March 13, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 14, at 3:30 p.m. at the Union Pines High School auditorium. Tickets can be purchased at the door.
"Think of the 'Wizard of Oz' that you know and add a touch more comedy," says Schrein. "Come and fall in love with this story all over again."
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