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Uniontown Area High School stages 'The Wizard of Oz'

| Sunday, April 29, 2001

The yellow brick road wasn't finished and the Kansas cornfield still had to be painted last week, but the Margaret A. Emelson Auditorium at Uniontown Area High School was looking a lot like the Emerald City, as actors, musicians and technical crews busily prepared for 'The Wizard of Oz.'

The adaption of the 1939 movie of the same title will be staged 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at the high school.

Director Ron Bronson said the show ought to be popular because of the familiarity of the characters, and the songs from the MGM classic, such as 'Over the Rainbow,' 'Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead,' and 'We're Off to See the Wizard.'

He also said many might be curious about how the movie's scenes are transported to the stage.

The transformation of a high school auditorium into the Emerald City was made that much more complete at the recent rehearsal as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man skipped across the stage in costume.

Senior Joanie Brittingham said her lead role in the play hasn't gone unnoticed among fellow students.

'People call me Dorothy,' she said.

She is excited about the part, enthusiastically pointing out, 'I get to sing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.''

Although she has some big ruby slippers to fill in the role originated by a young Judy Garland, Brittingham is confident of her performance.

'I have a high range,' she said of her singing voice.

Matt Smalley, covered in faux fur from head to toe for his role as the Cowardly Lion, said he has tried to 'look like I'm scared.'

He described his lion's call as 'more of a growl than a roar.'

Scarecrow Jeremy Lee said, 'I get to fall down a lot.'

Anthony Gulinda figures he has the sensitivity to play the Tin Man. He said the character without a heart turned out to have the biggest heart of anyone.

With her pink dress and high translucent crown, Lauren Smilley looks the model of a good witch Glinda. Megan Coneybear, on the other hand, doesn't mind playing a Wicked Witch.

'I like scaring people,' she said, noting that she has had some practice as a character at a fright farm over Halloween.

There is one unsettling experience to the role, however. 'I've heard the typecast joke so many times,' Coneybear said rolling her eyes upwards.

Gloria the Gatekeepers Daughter, played by Kisha Middleton, is a principal character that wasn't in the movie. Middleton will sing the song 'Merry Old Land of Oz' from the movie and the new ballad, 'That Evening Star.'

A number of other featured roles are also included.

The Wizard behind the curtain is played by Jesse Heslop. Standing on their farmhouse porch, Brandon Grim and Leigh McChesney, playing Dorothy's Uncle Henry and Auntie Em, are the spiting image of the farm couple depicted in the painting 'American Gothic.'

But as talented as the high school actors are, a bunch of little munchkins threaten to upstage them.

LITTLE MUNCHKINS
When MGM made the 'Wizard of Oz' in 1939, a casting call went out nationwide for 'little people.' Bronson merely had to look to the district's elementary schools.

The munchkins play various Emerald City types, including members of the Lullaby League and the Lollipop Guild.

They get to perform in the play as well as look cute. Taylor Roll, 9, a member of the Lollipop Guild, showed a dance step. Asked why else she liked the play and the talented tot said, 'I get to sing a lot.'

The munchkin officials of Emerald City are quite officious in their roles.

Bronson said there is a drawback to working with high-spirited, elementary-school actors. 'Just getting the little munchkins to stand still can be a real challenge,' he said.

There is also a group of high school students playing giant munchkins outfitted in bloomers with hooped bottoms to make them look more like munchkins. At the recent rehearsal, the difference in seeing the students costumed on stage and sitting on the floor in jeans eating pizza between scenes is striking.

Although some of the costumes were rented, many were sewn by parents, or by the production's costumer, Tammy Kaufman.

Kaufman pointed out that some of the costume design came from the original Frank Baum book, rather than the movie. She cited the costumes of the munchkin babies of the Lullaby League, which are done in 'blue tones.'

The Uniontown production includes such large set pieces as the Kansas farm house. There are also a number of backdrops for skies and skylines,

Bronson, a Connellsville resident and retired Uniontown Area School District math teacher who pursued community theater as an avocation, designed the set. But he credits art teacher Beverly DeMotte with 'painting her heart out' to bring it to life.

Bronson said the play also features some special effects, including 'flash pots' to allow the witches to appear and disappear in a puff of smoke.

Much will be left to the imagination, however.

Dance captain Danielle Scott, dressed in a lose black costume and spinning with a strobe light trained on her, represents the tornado.

The Jitterbugs, a routine cut from the movie, will be performed by Scott and fellow dancers. Kathleen Sickles is the play's choreographer.

Roddy Hibbs, a retired Uniontown music teacher and chorale director, is the music director for the play. The pit orchestra is made up of mostly student musicians, with four adults to complement their sound.

Hibbs pointed out that the play is good family entertainment, with some of the elements from the movie that tended to scare children omitted from the stage version. 'There are no flying monkies,' he said.

Unfortunately for dog lovers, there is no Toto in this version either, according to Bronson.

Signs advertising the 'Wizard of Oz' have sprouted all over Uniontown.

An informal parents group was started recently to support the annual play.

'We're trying to build interset and enthusiasm,' Bronson said.

He said Patty Gulinda, the Tin Man's proud mother, is a leader in the effort.

Other members of the Bronson's production crew are technical director Richard R. Davis and special effects consultant George Banks. Robert D. Caldwell supervises the stage crew.

The cost of admission to 'The Wizard of Oz,' is $5. Tickets are available at the high school during regular school hours, and at the door the evenings of performances.

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