No one expresses those classic theatrical words of encouragement, “break-a-leg” to Olivia Elder who plays the leading role of Dorothy Gale in Windham Center Stage’s “Wizard of Oz”. She already did.
Olivia, 13, had secured one of two cast roles of Dorothy and had learned her lines when she helped her brother clear snow from a high deck at their home. When they finished, both jumped off into the pile of snow.
“He landed okay, but I hit where the snow was soft and my leg broke in two places,” she stated.
It was just before the start of rehearsals for “The Wizard of Oz”, Young Performers Edition - when director Diane Hancock got the call from Olivia’s mom.
“Olivia was devastated and assumed she would have to give up the role”, said Hancock. But not so fast - If Olivia was willing, the production staff, the cast and the family would all pull together to “make it work.”
“I learned a lot about myself,” said Olivia, “I never had a leading role before (so) I had to push myself. Mostly, I was worried that I would let down my cast.”
As it turned out, she didn’t. The performance was reblocked (stage maneuvers) to support Olivia’s crutches. And the 39 other cast members, second through eighth graders, stepped forward to accommodate; giving special meaning to the phrase “supporting cast.”
“Oz, For Young Performers” is the adaptation of the classic 1939 musical drama about young Dorothy of Kansas who dreams of what’s over the rainbow. Her adventures begin when a twister carries her and her dog, Toto, off to see the wizard via the yellow brick road. In her dream world, she meets: Scarecrow (If I only had a brain), the Tinman (If I only had a heart), the Cowardly Lion (If I only had the nerve) and, of course, the Wicked Witch.
“These kids sing beautifully,” says Hancock, “and it’s because of the music teachers in the school system and the directors of area music venues, who foster excitement and passion about m
“Oz” is performed by two separate casts (distinguished by cast A and cast B), each consisting of 40 young performers, ages 7 to 13. There are 12 performances on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from March 10 (Opening Night) to March 26.
“We had lots of new kids auditioning this year.” said Hancock, “Kids from Greely, Waynflete, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Gorham, as well as Windham and Raymond; and more boys than usual. I think that’s because this isn’t a ‘princess show’. It’s a classic from our childhood.”
Annika Mocciola, who plays Dorothy in cast A, said she let out a scream of joy upon learning she had landed the leading role.
“My friends called me out of a music lesson at school and we all danced (in celebration).”
The angelic voices of both Dorothy’s give a smooth and stirring rendition of the show’s famous, “Over the Rainbow”.
Cast A’s Wicked Witch is played by Lucy Hatch, 12. “I just finished playing a villain in another play - now I’m a villain again. They loved my cackle (during the audition).”
Gianna Stevens, the cast B Witch, joked, “I get to be not myself,” adding with a flourish of her arms, “obviously, I’m not wicked.” Stevens worries about her Witch’s laugh. “I practice it all the time and ask people if it sounds okay.”
Emma Chase, 12, describes her role as the Scarecrow in cast A, as “…floppy, clumsy, goofy and happy. A fun role from a movie we grew up with.”
Cast B Scarecrow, Hannah Perfetti, was more introspective, “I’ve been shy my whole life and this allowed me to step out more.”
Maddie Hancock, 12, said her part as the cast A, Lion “…was the one I wanted because it was a challenge. I worked with the staff on voice and delivery so I wasn’t just a middle schooler on stage.”
The Lion in cast B, is Kate Ramseyer, who feels hers is “One of the most fun roles. Lion is whiny, annoying (but) comedic, and I like making people laugh.”
The Tinman posed a challenge for the actors in both casts. Daphne Cyr, 12, in cast A, characterized the role as, “Amazing! It taught me so much about acting (especially) the ‘tin walk.’ I was nervous (because) it’s hard to stay in character all the time.”
“I had to up my game,” said cast B Tinman, Alex Robbins, a fifth grader. “Before, I just had ensemble or bit parts. I was surprised (to get a leading part); lots a’ lines - kind a’ hard.”
Dorothy’s faithful dog, Toto, is played by Monica Farley (A) and Autumn Wood (B) – both fourth graders. The Toto’s are scrappy, fun and full of stage energy. While most cast members admitted that they hoped for the part of Dorothy (but settled happily for the role they got), Farley said she was going out for the part of Toto; “When they closed the door (at the audition), I dropped to my knees and acted like a dog.”
Wood said she loves playing Toto. “I’ve got two dogs at my house – I watched and studied them (to get into the role).”
“These kids make my job easy,” says Hancock, “they’re talented. They’re excited. We don’t have to push them. And one of the coolest dynamics of all our shows is the social environment. The younger children admire and emulate the older, more experienced kids. Then the younger ones become the mentors to a new generation of performers.”
Dorothy and her friends are complemented by: The Munchkins, Trees, Winkies, Flying Monkeys, Ozians and more. “Oz” is a youthful blend of music and comedy set amidst the classic conflict of good and evil.
“Oz” is directed by Diane Hancock with musical direction by Patrick Martin and choreography by Andrea Levinsky.
Why see it? Hancock says, “Because it’s a classic and the kids are awesome!”
And all the performances promise to “break-a-leg”.
For show times and more information visit: windhamtheater.org/Shows/wizardofoz.htm <