Marquee: 'The Wizard of Oz' whirls into Wa-Hi

Actors will take to the air when a professional flying company gives the production a lift.

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During her whirlwind descent from Kansas to Munchkinland, Willa Schober, as Dorothy, clings to her home's doorway as objects and even people fly by her.

To replicate the journey in the tornado for the stage at Walla Walla High School, some design creativity was applied. The door and its frame rest on a small platform with movable casters. Then two students grip handles and propel Schober -- still in the doorway -- across the stage, spinning her along with the door.

"The tornado is daunting. It's daunting," said Brian Senter, the school's drama teacher and director of the play. "But I think we have it figured out."

About 40 students have been rehearsing since February to present "The Wizard of Oz" starting May 6. The students will perform a Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of the 1900 novel by L. Frank Baum, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," that will bring the magic of the story to life.

Senter said the stage adaptation has a lot of the charm and wit of the classic 1930 film version starring Judy Garland, including the popular songs. But the play features more songs and offers more background and depth to many of the characters, including Dorothy's aunt and uncle, and the three farmhands who represent the key figures who lead Dorothy to Oz.

"This has all the great stuff from the movie and more," Senter said.

Lead actors include Schober, a senior at Wa-Hi, who plays Dorothy for the length of the show. Other lead characters are taking on multiple characters. Senior David Marr plays the Cowardly Lion, freshman Cougar Henderson plays the Scarecrow, and junior Kolton Kolbaba plays the Tin Woodsman. The three also play the farmhands.

Junior Jake Thomasen plays the Wizard of Oz, as well as Professor Marvel, whom Dorothy meets before the tornado strikes.

Junior Monica Daniel plays Glinda, and junior Hayden Winn plays the Wicked Witch of the West, whose first appearance is as Miss Elmira Gulch.

Supported with a talented cast of actors and singers, the performance will also offer colorful and playful costumes and some added elements to bring fun and thrills to the show.

There will be smoke effects incorporated in the Wizard's chamber. Video of objects during Dorothy's trip in the tornado will be projected onto a large backdrop. And there are plans to include a real-life Toto, who for now is portrayed by a "stunt" plush dog.

But the true magic will be unlocked with the help of a fly company that will train the students to "fly" during key scenes, like Glinda's introduction to Dorothy in Munchkinland, and with the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys.

Flying by Foy, a professional flying company from Las Vegas, will be working with the Wa-Hi students starting next week to recreate flight within the play.

The flying element will be a first for a Wa-Hi show, and one that will be tackled seriously, Senter said.

"We have to learn how to do it, and we have to learn how to do it in a week," he said.

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