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Young thespians hit yellow brick road

Left to right, Munchkins dance behind them as, center to right, Dorothy, played by Hanna Hughes, the Lion, played by Even Hohnstadt, the Scarecrow, played by Dylan Forte, and Tin Man understudy Andrew Lisak sing “The Merry Old Land of Oz” during rehearsal for the musical Wednesday at Superior Middle School. (Maria Lockwood)

Audience members are invited to walk down the yellow brick road with the next generation during Superior School District’s performance of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“This is a classic that we’ve all seen as kids,” said assistant director and “Mamma Munchkin” Tia Conley, an Engish teacher. “It’s a musical that is generational.”

Director Penny Bell chose “The Wizard of Oz” for many reasons.

“It is a classic musical that most of us love and know well, it offers many roles for munchkins as well as leads, but the biggest reason is because it is the 75th anniversary year for ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” said Bell, the choir teacher at Superior Middle School. She got a flood of response. A cast and crew of 90 students in grades 4-12 are bringing the production to life, fitting the traditional four-month rehearsal schedule into four weeks.

“When I heard I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this movie,’” said eighth grader Hanna Hughes, who steps into the ruby slippers of Dorothy Gale.

“I couldn’t believe when I was saying ‘Lions and tigers and bears, oh my,’” said seventh-grader Andrew Lisak, who plays a munchkin guard and is understudy for the tin man, lion and scarecrow roles. “That was like a childhood dream.”

“Wasn’t everybody scared of the monkeys?” Hughes asked. “I used to be terrified of those monkeys.”

Tenth grader Rachael Tuve worked on her flying monkey moves Wednesday, hunching over and bobbing about, snatching main characters at the bidding of the Wicked Witch of the West, played by senior Brooke Nelson.

The play moved at a brisk pace, following Dorothy and her friends as they set off to see the wizard and secure the witch’s broom. What sets this version apart from the movie is the vibrant characters, students said.

“The lion is definitely one of the funniest,” Andrew said. “He has that Jersey kind of ‘Rawr.’”

Audiences can watch tornado Kathy live on stage, see Munchkins transform between scenes, hum along to familiar music and see Piper the dog’s stage debut. The 9-year-old Yorkie-poodle mix stuck close to Dorothy’s side Wednesday, even without a leash.

Aidan McGrady, an eighth grader working the lights for the production, gets to watch the entire play unfold from the tech table. He said his favorite scene is when the wizard, a giant head with shifting eyes, appears amid a batch of special light effects.

“It is an incredible Oz head,” Bell said, made by Superior High School teacher Ed Johnson. Her favorite scene is when the curtain opens to Oz and the Munchkins.

“I think it’s so fun watching the mayor, the little kids up there with her,” Bell said. “Audiences can expect to be entranced by the land of Oz, where they will see over 60 Munchkins dancing, singing and thoroughly enjoying their stage experience.”

Working with the younger children can be challenging, the thespians said. They don’t always listen and they can be stubborn, according to Andrew. But they bring a joy to the show the older students appreciate.

“They give you hugs,” said Hadeel Huwaish, a ninth grader member of the backstage crew.

“And it’s also really fun because all the little kids come up to you and act like you’re famous or something,” said ninth grader Adele Leskala, who plays the Tin Man. “They ask you all these questions about your costume and stuff, it’s really fun.

“They’re like my biggest fans.”

The musical will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday in the Superior Middle School auditorium. Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for children age 12 and younger.

“They’re pre-selling like crazy,” Bell said. “I think they’ve already sold over 300.”

Tickets can be purchased in advance from cast members, the Superior Middle School office until noon and at the district administration building. They will also be available at the door.