by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
What young girl wouldn’t jump at the chance to sing “Over the Rainbow,” wear sparkly red shoes and carry around a sweet little dog?
Well, Susan Newberger needed some coaxing. But now that “Wizard of Oz” has opened, she’s glad director Jesse Wagner talked her into playing “Dorothy” in Spectrum High School’s spring musical.
“I found that I love acting,” said Newberger, “and I would like to do another play.”
Wagner asked choir director Marsha Kirkpatrick for recommendations, and from those he picked Newberger, a junior who lives in Becker.
“She has a great voice, and she has the right look, and the soft, kind personality you want for Dorothy,” said Wagner. “We went to work on her last spring. She was hesitant at first, because she had not done a play before.”
Asked about Dorothy’s signature song, one of the most-beloved show tunes ever written, Newberger said, “ ‘Over the Rainbow’ is one of my favorites, too. I love to sing it, and I really feel the meaning of it.”
“Wizard of Oz” — performed in the round, using the whole gymnasium and the stage — begins Friday night at 7 p.m. and continues Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m., and next Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
The cast of 40 kids also includes Ryan Swanson as Scarecrow, Ted Cullen as Tin Man, Travis Bondy at Cowardly Lion, Rachel Wiyninger as Wicked Witch of the West, and Alyssa Spofford as Glinda the Good Witch.
“Oz” is the most ambitious theatre project in the eight-year history of the school.
“This is the first time we have used our new lights, and the headsets, and theatre in the round,” noted Spofford, a senior. “This is the biggest play Spectrum has ever done. I’m a little nervous but it’s very exciting.”
Wagner, asked why he thinks folks will enjoy “Wizard of Oz” if they come and watch, said, “Because we’re doing a fresh new take on a beloved classic.”
This is Spectrum’s second year in the new gym. The two previous plays there had a makeshift system of nine cam lights (purchased off Craigslist) which Wagner hung himself, but a fuller lighting system was installed over holiday break.
The actors are also “miked” for the first time, with headsets. There’s close to 75 kids involved, the most ever, counting crews and other helpers. More than 40 costumes had to be created, with moms Cindy Wiyninger and Becky Bolles doing “a fantastic job” sewing them together, said Wagner.
Ruby-colored shoes have been a Dorothy trademark since the makers of the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland switched them from silver (as in the book) to take advantage of this new Technicolor thing.
Susan Newberger’s footwear was outfitted by Ramsey and students in his Fundamentals of Theatre Production class. They transformed a plain blue pair by spraying glitter and gluing 40 red sequins.
“They super fun to wear. They are awesomely red,” said Newberger.
Another first for Spectrum is a four-legged actor to play Toto. His name is “Buddy,” owned by a Spectrum family, and he seemed a sweet, mild-mannered little pooch the night the Star News visited practice.
“I have never seen a dog who’s so calm! You just pick him up and walk around and he’s fine with it,” said Newberger.
Presenting the play in-the-round, with four quadrants of chairs all facing the yellow brook road crossing, was Wagner’s decision, and not entirely original. He was a munchkin in “Oz” in fifth grade, and his school did the play in the round, too. Wagner said there’s too much going on to use just the stage.
Wagner already knew Spofford pretty well. She’s president of the student council, for which Wagner is faculty advisor.
“She is a sweet person, just the opposite of the Wicked Witch. I asked her and she said she could play it. She has a real drive and she pushes hard. I see her growing in the role every day.”
The cast is loaded with little kids. “We have some younger siblings of kids in the play,” said Spofford. “We don’t have a lot of high school kids because you don’t need many big, tall people for this play.”
We chatted with a couple of them, eighth-grader Travis Bondy, who was enjoying his Cowardly Lion role (“C’mon, put em up! Put em up!”) after playing basketball this winter, and sixth-grader Megan Kjendle, a munchkin (“We get to sing and dance a lot!”) with previous experience in church plays. All the kids seemed eager and honored to be part of this longtime favorite.