Follow the yellow brick road to Oz

Amanda Vallance, as the Cowardly Lion, Kelsey Brown as Dorothy, Kenzie as Toto, Jenae Van Gameren as Scarecrow, and Sydney Cochrane as Tinman  star in Lights of Broadway’s spring musical The Wizard of Oz, May 4 and 5 at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre.  - Lindsay Forslund
Amanda Vallance, as the Cowardly Lion, Kelsey Brown as Dorothy, Kenzie as Toto, Jenae Van Gameren as Scarecrow, and Sydney Cochrane as Tinman star in Lights of Broadway’s spring musical The Wizard of Oz, May 4 and 5 at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre.
— image credit: Lindsay Forslund

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore; Follow the yellow brick road; I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too; Because, because, because, because, becaaauuuuuse; There’s no place like home...

Ask anyone, young and old, where these sayings came from and it’s likely you will get the correct response. Part of the lexicon of popular culture since L. Frank Baum’s book was published 112 years ago, with the stage play that soon followed and the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz is still beloved by many, including the young Lights of Broadway stars and their director, Charity Van Gameren, who are bringing the classic musical to the Vernon Performing Arts Centre stage next weekend.

The Wizard of Oz is timeless,” said Van Gameren, who runs her musical theatre program out of the Vernon Community Music School. “Whether you are 85 or seven, when you say the name, everyone knows what you are talking about.”

Van Gameren first staged The Wizard of Oz 12 years ago in the non-air conditioned auditorium at Vernon Secondary School. Despite stifling costumes, the show was the start of Lights of Broadway’s popular spring musicals, which have grown in both size, spectacle and setting.

With more than 50 children, ranging in ages from six to 18, enrolled this year, Van Gameren felt it was apt to bring The Wizard of Oz back to the stage.

“This year, I wanted to choose a show everyone knows and loves,” said Van Gameren, who staged the lesser known Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Performing Arts Centre last year. “There’s been so much growth in Lights of Broadway and with the Performing Arts Centre being our home the past 10 years, I knew this would be the right show to stage. I also have a strong young cast, and enough of them to play the Munchkins.”

Besides working with a large group of young children, Van Gameren is taking a leap of faith with the show’s famed canine character. In March, she and VCMS administrator Corinne Rainsforth, who trains and shows dogs, held an audition to find Toto, and seven dogs and their owners showed up.

“Corinne had them try to sit, stay, come, and she also had the owners leave the room to see how they would respond when their owner was not there,” said Van Gameren.

In the end, one little dog stood out, and as it turns out she is no stranger to the theatre.

The same breed as the Toto from the movie, McKenzie, better known as “Kenzie,” is a little black cairn terrier owned by George and Pamela Burns Resch, the latter being the executive director of the Performing Arts Centre.

“Kenzie has spent her life breathing in the air of the PAC and was born for the stage,” said Van Gameren.

Kelsey Brown, 17, who plays Dorothy, is the only one who is allowed to have dog food during rehearsals so that Kenzie will follow her around, and it seems to be working as the two have developed a bond, just like in the story.

“Dorothy is really caring about other people and she really loves her dog, even though Toto is the one who gets her in a mess. But she befriends everyone she meets,” said Brown, adding she first watched The Wizard of Oz film when she was seven years old.

Joining Brown is a group of young women who have been with Lights of Broadway for a number of years. Some will be graduating this year, so playing such iconic roles is a grand way to make an exit.

“I was in the (Munchkins) lullaby league 12 years ago,” said Jenae Van Gameren, 17, who took the lead role as Millie in last year’s production and this year is dancing her way back in as the Scarecrow.

“I love how fun-loving the scarecrow is. He’s laid-back and friendly, and his friendship with Dorothy is something to admire.”

Amanda Vallance, 16, is in her element playing one of the musical’s most beloved characters, the Cowardly Lion, while Megan Barss, 15, is the good witch Glinda, and Sydney Cochrane, 14, is the Tinman.

“The Lion is so funny and cute. He’s like a growly bear, but is so lovable. He has so much pride and wants to be tough and show he’s not scared. He adds the comedic relief,” said Vallance, while Barss says she has wanted to be Glinda, and wear the glittering dress, since she was a young girl watching the movie.

“I think I have to cry 15 times in the show,” added Cochrane, about her rather stiff role. “It’s funny and ironic that (Tinman) needs a heart as he seems to have the most heart of everyone.”

Kim van Wensem and Lisa Stewart are donning the green face paint to take turns in playing that other iconic character, the Wicked Witch of the West, while Rebecca Vander Deen and Rayel Bolton are taking turns to play the Wizard of Oz.

“The costume changes are ridiculous. Dorothy literally clicks the heels of her ruby slippers to go back to Kansas while the rest of the cast get their makeup and costumes changed,” said Van Gameren, who has also choreographed most of the show, and is receiving help from dance instructor Karina Hettler as well as theatre/speech arts performer and teacher Sarah Mori.

Also helping make sure the music flows with ease is musical director Neta Petkau, who will accompany all those famous numbers (Over the Rainbow, anyone?) along with members of the music school’s Carriage House Orchestra.

Set designer Dave Brotsky is busy at work creating a Munchkinland and Emerald City that will literally blow people away, said Van Gameren, adding Randy Jones is also working on background visual work to create the cyclone scene, while some of her former students, Christie Stewart, Sammy Harper and Brittney Wernicke, who are all in post- secondary theatre programs, are returning to help with the show.

“There is a lot of thought and magic being put into this,” said Van Gameren, adding she has had to play the good and bad witch to get everything organized in time for the curtain rising. “When you have your sights on a goal, it can be a painful process, but when you’re on the stage, you tend to forget all that hard work... I say to my students, ‘You may not like me now, but you will love me later.’”

The Wizard of Oz plays at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre May 4 at 7 p.m. and May 5 at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller box office. Call 250-549-7469 or visit www.ticketseller.ca.


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