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Aquinas Academy students bring 'Wizard of Oz' to the small stage

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A mayor, a wizard and two gatekeepers from Fox Chapel made their debut last week in a middle school production of “Wizard of Oz.”

Students at Aquinas Academy, an independent Catholic school in Gibsonia, put their acting chops to the test when they took on L. Frank Baum's iconic fantasy about a Kansas girl who travels with her dog, Toto, to a land of munchkins and flying monkeys.

“Right before the play started, I was freaking out,” said RJ Newcamp, a seventh-grader from Fox Chapel. “But that pretty much goes away once the show starts.”

In his second year in the school's spring musical, Newcamp shot to local fame when he landed the main role of The Wizard. That, after having played a dog with no speaking lines in “Androcles and the Lion” last year, he laughed.

“I was kind of expecting to get a minor role,” said Newcamp, adding that he was thrilled with his part as the mysterious leader who heads the Land of Oz

In all, there were 68 students who showcased their talents in the production, either on stage or behind the scenes as part of the music and stage crew. That's nearly 80 percent of the student body, assistant principal Mike Burchhill said.

Head of School Leslie Mitros said “middle school students often naturally focus on themselves. They are also creatures of drama — in many senses of the word. It is wonderful to give them an outlet whereby they become one particular piece of something bigger than themselves, and allow their drama-seeking to find a home in creative acting.”

“They have the wit to add their own interpretive nuances and the confidence to step out on the stage,” she said.

Director Mike Flynn used Tom McCabe's adaptation to set the stage for the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Because the script is so well-known and loved, students said it was slightly daunting but at the same time exciting to tackle.

“I really liked the play this year because it was fun,” said Grace Henry, 14, an eighth-grader from Fox Chapel.

As the Mayor of Munchkin City, Henry's job included more than sending Dorothy down the yellow brick road. Her outlandish makeup and costume matched her duty as an “over the top narrator.”

“I was surprised to get that role ‘cause I'm pretty tall,” she said, “but it was a great role. I was the first character who talks on stage, so that was cool.”

As the adventure wound on, the curious lead characters came head to head with Sophia Kartsonas and Mike Henry, both eighth-grade “gatekeepers” at the entrance to the Emerald City.

Kartsonas, 13, said seeing the audience react to the beloved childhood show is enough to make her want to continue studying theater.

“I loved it,” she said. “It's not a big role in the movie but we made it into the best it could be. I like seeing the audience laugh.”

Henry, 14, said the spring musical provides an atmosphere where students become family. Afterschool rehearsals for three months means getting to know everyone really well, he said.

“I was a little nervous because it was such a big, familiar show,” said Henry, who has participated twice before in school plays. “The set was really good and I liked playing a weirder character. I got to wear a leprechaun hat and I thought the show was pretty funny.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2, or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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