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Wizard of Oz coming soon to Alton

Sunday, September 18, 2011

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With a cast of 66 and at least 25 students working behind the scenes, Alton High School is preparing a play of colossal proportions -- "The Wizard of Oz."

The original film version that starred Judy Garland as Dorothy premiered in 1939, about 50 years before Alton's Dorothy -- Megan Bassett -- was born.

Still, the classic musical adaptation of the L. Frank Baum's book, written in 1900, appeals to Bassett, who loves to sing and has an eclectic taste in music.

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"I listen to everything," Bassett said. "If it's music, I like it."

Bassett's favorites range from pop's Beyoncé to country's Rascal Flatts. So, learning the soothing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was not a wild leap for the senior choir member.

Some of the cast members, such as Kayla Barstow, who will play Tingirl, also participate in the school's drama program, although many have no drama experience. Barstow serves as vice-president of the drama club.

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Above: Alton High School students spend time during and after school to work on the complex set pieces needed for the school's October presentation of "The Wizard of Oz." Below: the cast from the original film version included, from left, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Judy Garland and Jack Haley. Bottom left: Alton High School choir students, from left, Kayla Bartsow, Noah Williams, Megan Bassett and Jessica Alexander, who will play the Tingirl, Cowardly Lion, Dorothy Gale and the Scarecrow, respectively.
Vocal teacher Laurel Johnson, in her fourth year at Alton, leads the musical instruction.

Meanwhile, drama teacher Anne Oesch, in her third year with the district, will direct the students as they act out their parts on stage.

Already practicing more than two nights a week, the melding of music and acting is sure to be another hit for the tiny high school, with 369 enrolled in Oregon County's county seat.

Two years ago, the school wowed its audience with another big Hollywood musical, "Grease." This year's Scarecrow, Jessica Alexander, then a sophomore, played the lead as Sandy (Olivia Newton John in the film version).

Like Bassett, Alexander has been in choir since junior high. She plans to pursue a degree in vocal music education.

Johnson said she and Oesch chose "The Wizard of Oz" for this year's play because many of the parts could be adapted from male roles to female.

"We knew we had more girls than boys," Johnson said. "Plus, the story and music is wonderful."

Movie classic

Freshman Noah Williams, who plays the Lion, said he was unfamiliar with the movie until this summer. After learning the school would perform "The Wizard of Oz," and that Turner Broadcasting Station (TBS) would air the movie one entire weekend, Williams watched the movie all three nights. He even noticed film bloopers, such as a string pulled from offstage to move the Lion's tail.

"I saw the light flashing off his tail," Williams said. "Still, it was pretty good technology for the day."

William's close attention to the movie paid off.

Johnson said Williams pegged his performance as the Cowardly Lion during auditions. Another immediate selection for a role was Molly Steele as the Wicked Witch of the West.

"We didn't even have to discuss it," Johnson said of Williams' and Steele's auditions.

Not all of the choices were so easy, as at least 16 students tried out for the lead roles. Johnson and Oesch were at school that night until at least 7 p.m. watching the students do their best to win a top role.

"I have great kids," Johnson said. "They work really hard."

Megan Bassett's twin sister, Allanah Bassett, will play Glinda, the Witch of the North. Other lead roles will be played by Tyler Chilcutt as the Wizard, Haileigh Hufstedler as Aunt Em and Vonda Neldon as Uncle Henry.

Johnson said some of the play's parts simply could not be filled by upperclassmen.

"We will also have first and second graders playing the flying monkeys and third and fourth graders in munchkin roles," Oesch said. "It will be huge and great fun."

From now until show night, students also will be busy building and painting the set, working on choreography, making costumes, learning their lines and songs and synchronizing lighting.

Many of the students even spend their brief lunch breaks painting pieces of the extravagant set.

Coming soon

Alton High School choir and drama departments will present "The Wizard of Oz" on Oct. 27-29 in the high school auditorium.



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