Lee Senior is 'off to see the wizard'

Student 'Wizard of Oz' show stays true to familiar storyline
Apr. 28, 2014 @ 06:56 PM

The classic story "The Wizard of Oz" was 39 years old before it was made into one of the most famous movies of all time. Now, 75 years after the film debut and 114 years after the book came out, drama students at Lee County High School are putting their own spin on the tale.

The world of Oz did, of course, make it onto stage in the highly successful musical "Wicked" a decade ago. But that play was based on a spin-off novel, not the original "The Wizard of Oz" story itself.

The question of how to make that original story fresh has challenged theater directors for years. So the group at Lee Senior decided to play it safe and let the story speak for itself — or sing for itself when appropriate, like with "Over the Rainbow" or "The Jitterbug," a song cut from the movie that Ron Coley, the school's theater director, decided to put back in.

But that's one of the few deviations.

"We're trying to stick to the original as much as possible," Coley said Monday during the first dress rehearsal before the show begins Wednesday. "The script is largely what's from the movie."

In movies, though, the actors don't also have to do all the scurrying around and heavy lifting during scene changes. On the stage, however, they do. And Monday's rehearsal showed the production is still coming together.

"There's a house missing," Coley bellowed out after one scene change left a conspicuous hole in the background. "Who's not put it there?"

Other times props were left on stage or went flying offstage, and then there's the matter that Toto is played by a real dog and although the dog is calm, it does sometimes wander.

But Coley said issues are to be expected, and that's the purpose of dress rehearsals like the one Monday. By opening night Wednesday, he said, the show should be down to a smooth two hours.

Complicating matters somewhat is the nature of the cast. There are 35 high schoolers and another 25 students from fourth, fifth and sixth grades playing the Munchkins. Coley put out an open call to all the elementary and middle schools and received interest from a wide range of aspiring stars, who have practiced after school at Sanford's Encore School of the Performing Arts.

Encore's owner, Kelly Burman, is handling choreography for the whole show, but the singing and dancing in Munchkin City is by far the biggest and most complicated scene, she said. And on Monday, she said that while it wasn't perfect, it was pretty darn good.

"It's an ambitious musical," she said. "There's a very high bar with 'The Wizard of Oz.' Everyone has seen it. But I will say this: The young kids are on it."

Coley said plays at Lee Senior have involved a handful of non-high schoolers before, but never so many and in such a big role. At least half a dozen have speaking roles, and all 25 spend a considerable time singing and dancing on stage. Coley said he'd do it all again if given the chance.



WHAT: "The Wizard of Oz," by the Lee County High School theater department

WHEN: 7 p.m. each night Wednesday through Saturday

WHERE: Lee County High School auditorium

TICKETS: $5 for students, $7 for everyone else