You could say that Vernon’s Christie Stewart is over the rainbow with excitement.
The Kalamalka Secondary School grad recently found out she has been selected as one of 20 young women to vie for the part of Dorothy in the upcoming Andrew Lloyd Webber production of The Wizard of Oz, which is scheduled to open at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre in December, 2012.
It’s all part of CBC TV’s new reality show, Over the Rainbow, where judges, including those from Canada’s top theatre circles as well as musical giant himself, Webber, will select who will play the girl from Kansas.
The show follows on the heels of 2008’s CBC reality talent show, How Do you Solve a Problem like Maria?, which featured the search for Maria for The Sound of Music. That part, coincidently, was won by a B.C. resident, Surrey’s Elicia MacKenzie, who has gone on to star in the Toronto production of Rock of Ages.
Stewart, who is about to enter her fourth year of acting specialization at the University of Victoria, first heard about the Vancouver audition for Over the Rainbow on Facebook.
“It was very last minute. Someone had posted an ad about it on the UVic theatre page. I thought ‘wouldn’t that be so great?’”
Becoming Dorothy is a dream for Stewart who played the part of the Mayor of Munchkinland 12 years ago in a local production of The Wizard of Oz.
This year, she returned home to take over as stage manager when the same local musical theatre studio, The Lights of Broadway, which Stewart has been a part of since she was a child, remounted the show at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre.
“Christie personifies all things musical theatre,” said Stewart’s former vocal coach and Lights of Broadway leader Charity Van Gameren, who runs her studio out of the Vernon Community Music School. “She started studying voice and musical theatre with me at the age of eight until she graduated high school and I knew right away that Christie was meant to take to the stage.”
Stewart was one of approximately 200 females who initially auditioned for Over the Rainbow in Vancouver. (Auditions were held around Canada, with more than 700 showing up in Toronto.)
“They auditioned six girls at a time in a hotel there. We were brought to this teeny room where we met a vocal agent for the first screening. She asked me about myself, and I sang a song I had prepared. Then she had me sing Over the Rainbow. She stopped me after two notes before getting me to do vocal scales. I thought that was it,” said Stewart.
Instead she was sent to meet with casting director Stephanie Gorin, who had her sing Over the Rainbow bar for bar.
“I watched as girls filtered out, a lot of them crying. Some had golden tickets. When it came to my turn, (Gorin) asked me what would I do about school if I had a chance to be Dorothy. I said I would drop everything. And she told me, ‘You may have to do that.’”
Armed with a golden ticket, Stewart attended the callbacks at Toronto’s CBC studios June 21 to 23, where she performed in front of vocal coach Jeannie Wyse, choreographer Sean Cheesman and Gorin.
She again sang Over the Rainbow, and her own selected piece The Trolley Song, made famous by Dorothy herself, Judy Garland, in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis.
“At the end, they called 20 girls to the front and no one at the time knew we would be in the top 20,” said Stewart. “Daryn Jones, the host of the show, was there and he thanked us all, saying the judges had made their decision. Then he said ‘You’re in the top 20.’
“I don’t cry often, but I did this time.”
Now back in Victoria, Stewart has a month to prepare for the next round, when the potential Dorothys will return to Toronto. Ten will then be selected to appear in the televised version of the contest, airing in September.
With the physical demands that will be expected of her, Stewart is currently looking to take dance lessons, under the recommendation of the judges, and is running and biking. She is also keeping her vocal cords in shape by singing every day.
She is already registered for UVic in the fall, and says whatever happens, she is grateful for the opportunity and experience.
“This is exactly what I want to do with my life,” she said. “Definitely, my love and wish is to be in musicals.”
Here in Vernon, Stewart’s family, including mother Kerrie, father Cal and sisters Lisa and Stephanie, who have also been long-time musical theatre students in Lights of Broadway, will be rooting for her, along with her top cheerleader.
“Christie has the it factor for theatre and when she takes to the stage to act or opens her mouth to sing it is pure magic,” said Van Gameren. “I am extremely proud and not at all surprised by her success. She is gifted, determined and grounded, the perfect combination for success.”