Special to The Cambrian
Munchkins, Poppies, Lullaby Dancers, flying monkeys and Jitterbugs will join Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Woodsman, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road in the Coast Union High School spring musical. The array of colorful characters in “The Wizard of Oz” gives students from grammar school, middle school and high school an opportunity to be on stage and bring a favorite story to life.
This is the first time the high school’s musical has included so many grammar school students, said Kirk Henning, who has returned as guest director. The ensemble accommodates students of all ages and sizes, and they will sing and dance to a full live orchestra made up of students and community members, conducted by Randy Schwalbe. The orchestra has all sections, brass, woodwinds, strings and percussion. Penny Beavers, a concert harpist, will add another flavor to the sound.
“There are so many great players in Cambria,” Henning said, noting that singing and dancing with a live orchestra has been a learning experience for the performers.
“They are so young and inexperienced that singing with live music is challenging. It conditions them to be flexible, as the orchestra is just a little bit different every night.”
Kit Hansen is vocal director, and the director’s daughter, Sonya Henning, is choreographer. She graduated from Coast Union and is now a dance instructor in Long Beach.
“Sonya was in musicals here, and she has good rapport with the kids,” her father said.
There are several familiar production numbers, such as the
Munchkins, “The Merry Old Land of Oz,” and “Jitterbug,” a song and dance number that is not in the classic 1939 movie with Judy Garland.
The 1987 adaptation that Henning is using for the show is from the Royal Shakespeare Company, and in it a sequence that was cut from the movie has been restored. When the Wicked Witch of the West orders her monkeys to attack Dorothy and her friends, the monkeys are too tired, and the travelers find themselves in a haunted forest where bugs called Jitterbugs entrance them and force them to dance until they fall, exhausted. Then the monkeys attack. It is a fine spot for a lively musical number. The rest of the play is patterned closely to the movie version, but there is more comedy, Henning said. “More one liners, even from the witch.”
Students auditioned for the leading roles. Alex Zaragoza is Dorothy, Evan Wright plays the Scarecrow, Ian Cocroft is the Tin Woodsman, and Cesar Viveros is the Cowardly Lion. Heather Granada plays the Wicked Witch of the West, and Bennett McManus is Glinda, the good witch. Konner Riley plays the Wizard. Kylie Castle is Auntie Em, and Matthew Kenrick is Uncle Henry.
Toto is a realistic looking, flexible maneuverable puppet, manipulated by Dorothy. A real dog is problematic, Henning noted, with stress on the animal and unpredictability. “Toto spends a lot of time on stage.”
“The costumes are amazing,” he said. Some were adapted from previous shows, some were made and a few were bought. Lani Varagoza is costume designer.
The special effects, such as the flying witch, are a combination of lighting effects and video. Joe Varagoza is lighting designer, Tigg Morales designed the set, and Syd Carr is sound engineer.
Coast Union offers classes in music, chorus and art, but drama is an after school extra-curricular activity. The Drama Club is self-sustaining, Henning explained, with funds from ticket sales and community support.
A silent auction will be held throughout the run of the show, with a collection of commemorative Wizard of Oz plates and a Wizard of Oz birdhouse among the items available. Shirley Kirkes-Mar is producing original artwork from which posters will be made, and the original will be up for auction.
The Coast Union theater program has inspired students to go on with music and acting careers. A case in point is the success of Kerry and Marcus DiMaggio, who are the leading actor/singers in San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s current musical, “My Generation.”