With a few sweeps of a giant, fabric tornado, audience members attending the Sky High Players’ production of The Wizard of Oz last night were transported somewhere over the rainbow, where monkeys fly and witches reside. Filled with flying cast members, dancers, and choirs, it was a musical made possible by hours of behind-the-scenes work and practice.
Creating the Land of Oz was a 9-10 month process with time spent before and after school, and even during the summer, preparing the stage and the performers for show time. Nan Wharton, the director of the show, said that organizing crew members to design costumes and choreograph dances, and arranging flight elements with ZFX Effects, Inc. began back in May of last year. “It was a bigger show than I ever anticipated,” she said.
Try outs for the show began in late November, and from that point, cast members spent long hours perfecting stage elements and lines. Tyler Jones, who played Uncle Henry Gale, said, “Normally we would have early mornings starting at 5:50, and then on Thursdays we had work call, where we would stay and make the set from 2:45 to 5 p.m.”
The student cast had little more than two months to master blocking and lines, and to don the personalities of their characters. Max Benson, the Scarecrow, said, “I love the scarecrow. He’s just so happy and such an outgoing person. It’s so fun to be a happy camper, to be that character and have that mindset.”
With the wide array of characters in L. Frank Baum’s Oz, students were also joined by children who played the Munchkins in beginning scenes, and who are relatives of cast members and faculty.
To give it an Osian look, the musical was filled with dozens of special effects and decorations, including five backdrops, hand built and painted props, specially designed costumes, and ZFX’s flying wires. Cast members were trained on the wires during fly calls to be comfortable using them.
Another element that the cast worked with was Heist, the dog that played Toto during the musical. “There were some times when he really freaked me out,” said Azure Kline, playing Dorothy. “When he had a bad day at rehearsals, I had a bad day at rehearsals.”
Kline said that it took time to get used to him, but eventually she learned to love her canine cast member. She added later, “He was just so amazing to work with. For a dog to sit through that…he’s awesome!”
Actors weren’t the only ones to undergo intense training; choir members, Sky View’s orchestra, and dancers also underwent regular practice. Margaret Robison, an Osian dancer in the musical, said, “With the Osian dance, we split into three groups and each student choreographer taught us separately. The steps were pre-arranged.”
Liz Johnson, a trombone player in the orchestra, explained that the quirky notes audience members listened to during the show were not at all easy to get right. “It’s pretty hard music because it’s the same music played on Broadway,” she said. “For a while, we met every morning at 6:00; then after a while we started working with the cast after school from about five to ten.”
Wharton explained that the soft voices heard in the background of the musical were part of an experiment that’s never been done before at a Sky View play. Sixty five choir members, under the direction of Karen Teuscher, were tucked away in a whole other room, and they watched for their cue to sing through a camera that filmed the orchestra conductor, Richard Kline. “We were all nervous,” Wharton said, but she added that it worked really well.
Further behind the scenes was the sound and light crew, which dealt with a variety of different settings for the musical. Justin Wellington, a senior spot operator, explained that they were behind the voice of Oz and dealt with mixing, mikes, and making sure everything was on cue.
“For opening night, this was a great night,” he said. “There were not any problems, and it went really smoothly.”
Wharton said, “The tech director, set constructer…all were former students of mine that came back and contributed to the program. It’s really fun to see that.”
The musical was highly publicized, with radio ads, posters in stores, banners, and even a YouTube video. To raise money for the event, students also spent weeks selling concessions at Aggie games.
For the intrepid Oz fan, lions and tigers and bears were nothing to be nervous about compared to the rate in which tickets began selling. With approximately 803 tickets sold for the opening show, it was the biggest opening night that Wharton has seen.
Hundreds of sponsors, cast and crew members, and faculty pulled together to make the event possible. For the students, it was well worth it.
“I loved performing in front of a live audience,” said Robison, who is currently a sophomore at Sky View. “We’ve gone over it 100 times with just us in the seats. It was amazing to see the audience in the seats and enjoy the magic of what we created.”
Kline said, “I loved it. It was so fun; I especially like the friendships I made with the lion, the scarecrow, the tin man, the directors, the crew…I just love performing.”
Jones added, “It’s more magical than Disneyland.”