Off to see the wizard

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Parmalee students perform new take on familiar play

By Deb Hurley Brobst

The Parmalee Elementary School gymnasium was bustling with activity recently as about 30 students and a cadre of parents worked to perfect the school musical, “Oz.”

Students are the main characters in a musical that is based on “The Wizard of Oz” but has a few twists on the beloved tale and new music, according to Christine Gaudreau, the school’s music teacher and director of the play.

The entire cast encompasses the 220 students in first through fifth grade and one adult, Jackson Russell, the school’s facility manager, who plays the Wizard. Parents have lent their time and talent to sewing costumes and creating scenery.

Performances of “Oz” are at 1 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 7. A $3 admission fee is requested.

The show is wonderful, Gaudreau said. Each character sings songs in a different musical style. For example, the Wizard sings gospel rock, while the Scarecrow sings a bluegrass-style song and the Lion sings the blues. The remaining cast members sing and dance as munchkins, flying monkeys and other assorted characters.

This is the second time Gaudreau has attempted an all-school musical. Two years ago, the students performed in “The Jungle Book.”

This year’s show got its start in November with tryouts for the main characters. A committee made the final decisions in December, and those students have been learning lines, songs and choreography on Friday and Sunday afternoons ever since.

Gaudreau said the tryouts were competitive.

“It was very difficult to make the final selection,” Gaudreau said. “What was great is that some kids stepped out of their comfort zones to audition in front of a group. Some normally wouldn’t express themselves in that way.”

For example, fifth-grader Hugh Dinsmore, who portrays the Tin Man, said he had never acted before as a main character, though he had smaller parts in the musical two years ago. He said he originally tried out for “Oz” to miss a math class.

“But it’s turned out to be kind of fun,” Hugh said.

Students learned the large chorus songs during their regular music classes with Gaudreau. For the past week, there have been daily rehearsals.

Gaudreau sits in the middle of the gym, jumping up occasionally to move the spotlight or to help students with choreography. She jumps up and down with her hands to her ears, trying to get the kids to sing louder so audiences will be able to hear.

In the back of the room, some parents are tearing tape to hang scenery, and others are rolling out long pieces of yellow plastic to create the yellow brick road.

There’s a definite point to all the chaos.

Scarecrow Annika Shaulis, a fourth-grader, has been to summer acting camp and is using the skills she learned there to play her part.

“I’m excited and a little bit nervous, too,” Annika said. “This is the first really big play I’ve been in.”

One of the highlights of the show is Russell, who plays the Wizard. He said he did not get involved in events of this type when he worked at other schools, but he felt it was right to get involved at Parmalee.

“I’ve gotten to know the kids and the families here,” said Russell, who has worked at Parmalee for a year. “I opened up my heart.”

Now he’s singing and acting on stage with the students. He said the hardest part has been learning all his lines.

He says he’s amazed at what the kids have been able to do with the musical.

Gaudreau said that while working with a cast of 220 can be difficult at times, Parmalee is the kind of school where musical magic happens.

“(The students) have been just great,” she said. “It’s a very special group of kids. They’re very gifted and a joy to work with. It takes so much support from staff, administration, parents and families to make this work. It’s really marvelous what everybody has given in terms of time, enthusiasm and support. I don’t think I could do it anywhere else.”