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Ex-Munchkin finally earns her wings as Flying Monkey

| Sunday, July 28, 2002

When it comes to her work in the theater, Caitlin Reilly usually doesn't monkey around.

Reilly, 17, a resident of Mt. Lebanon and newly graduated from Seton-La Salle High School, has a history of setting goals and attaining them.

When she was 4 years old, her family took her to see the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production of "The Sound of Music." Afterward, her uncle Ken Brannigan Jr., who's production manager for the Civic Light Opera, gave her a backstage tour. "I looked at the hill (where Maria sings 'The Sound of Music') and knew I wanted to take acting classes and to perform on this stage," Reilly says.

She began taking classes at the CLO Academy and, in 1993, she got her wish when she appeared as a Munchkin in the Civic Light Opera's production of "The Wizard of Oz." Since then, she has appeared in at least one Civic Light Opera show each year, including "Bye, Bye Birdie," "The Music Man," "Cinderella" and "Most Happy Fellow," and has performed in the past several productions of the company's annual "A Musical Christmas Carol."

But that 1993 "Wizard of Oz," she says, "was one of my favorite experiences. There were about 27 of us, and we became very close. I loved the rehearsal process and felt very mature.

"We did professional choreography, got costumes and had our faces painted white. It felt so real to be in a professional atmosphere. I don't think there was any turning back after that."

Her only regret was that she didn't get to be one of the Flying Monkeys. Those roles went to two older children. "We were jealous, because we were cramped together in the basement dressing room, and they got to change costumes and go upstairs again," she says. "And then, I found out they got to fly. ..."

Tuesday night, Reilly will achieve that ambition when she finally appears as a Flying Monkey in "The Wizard of Oz."

Her role is a graduation gift from the CLO Academy's education director, Buddy Thompson, who knew of her long-standing ambition.

When Reilly learned last fall that "The Wizard of Oz" would be part of the 2002 summer season, she knew she was too old to audition for one of the children's roles. But she confided to Thompson that she had always longed to play one of the Flying Monkeys. It became a half-serious joke that they shared. "Whenever I would see him, I would say, 'I get to play a Flying Monkey, right?' " she says.

Soon after she graduated from the CLO Academy this past spring, Thompson slipped her a graduation card. Inside he had written: "You'll be a monkey in 'The Wizard of Oz.' "

"It was an exciting time between that and being in the Gene Kelly Awards Show," Reilly says. She was one of three actresses nominated for the best actress award for her performance as Maisy Dell in the Seton-La Salle production of "Miss Liberty."

Unlike her idols in the 1993 production, Reilly says, "No, I don't think I get to fly. But I'm also a dancing Poppy, so that makes up for it."

After Reilly finishes performing in "The Wizard of Oz," she will prepare to enter the University of the Arts in Philadelphia this fall, where she plans to continue studying to be an actress.

"I have a lot of different ideas about what I want to do," she says. "I know a lot of people who have gone on to Broadway. Patrick Wilson (now appearing on Broadway as Curly in 'Oklahoma!') played my father in a few things. But Jeff Howell and Susan Chapek have made careers here, and that's appealing to me. They have become mentors to me and shown me there are different routes you can take."

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