Ahwatukee residents might want to follow the yellow brick road to Desert Vista High School because Dorothy and her trio of odd friends will be there – along with 54 other student thespians, 20 student techies and even a dog.
If you haven’t guessed by now, the Desert Vista Thunder Theatre Company will be presenting the classic “Wizard of Oz” at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, March 6 and 7, and at 3:45 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, March 8. Tickets are $10 and available at the door.
With a huge cast of 58 students – and a real canine playing Toto – the blockbuster show not only is one of the largest in the theater company’s history but also teacher-director Jesse Ploog-Bacik’s first musical at Desert Vista, where she is a first-year teacher.
Ploog-Bacik said she picked the title for her first musical for two reasons.
“I wanted a show that I could have a large cast,” she explained. “I’m really trying to focus on growing our program and making it an inclusive place, so doing a show that allowed for a large cast was important to me. Second, I decided that I wanted to do a show that was very ensemble focused. While this show does have a set of lead roles, like all shows do, it really allows for the ensemble to shine.
“I felt that a show like this would help me build the community within Thunder Theatre Company that I want the kids to feel. The ensemble is involved in such a large portion of this show, be it on stage, singing in the wings, or helping with scene changes and I love that. I believe that every role in a show is equally important and this felt like a show that I could really display that idea to the students with.”
And besides, she added, “I personally love ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”
“I’ve been in love with the music and story since I could first sit through the movie as a young kid, so it’s really special to have this be the first musical I am bringing to the Desert Vista stage.”
The sets and the costumes may not be as elaborate as they were when Judy Garland played Dorothy in the movie 80 years ago – partly because “we were on a pretty quick timeline,” Ploog-Bacik explained.
“We decided to go fairly simplistic with the set while still giving that classic Oz feel that everyone expects of the show,” she said. “We decided that to make the show work under our strict timeline and tight backstage storage, we’d rather have pieces that still give the feel that an audience would expect without going extremely detailed and over the top.”
Still, she added, “It’s been a fun challenge to work with the kids on finding this balance. We want to give the audience enough to know where we are and what we were going for with the design while still keeping it on the simplistic side.”
The costumes are another story, however.
“That’s where we are putting in some more of the detail and really letting the kids pull out the stops,” Ploog-Bacik said. “There are some very fun pieces that I am excited for the audience to see. Between mixing fun patterns and colors in Munchkinland, the ‘bling’ that we wanted to see in Oz, and all of the other groups of characters that need very distinct looks, they have a lot of fun finding creative solutions to make the show visually appealing while still sticking to the short build time.”
Because “Wizard” has been around for eight decades, Ploog-Bacik hoped her actors and actresses didn’t think “it was just a boring ‘old’ musical.”
And she said “the cast really seems to be enjoying the production process.”
“The music is a lot of fun and our student choreographers have done an awesome job at making each dance exciting to watch and be a part of.”
Besides, the basic message of the musical is timeless, she added.
“The idea of appreciating your home, wherever that may be to each person, is important,” Ploog-Bacik said. “I remember being in high school and just wishing I was in college because ‘it would be so much better.’ Looking back on that time now, there were definitely people in my life that I didn’t appreciate enough because I was too busy waiting for something better.
“I hope that by the end of this experience, the kids are able to see this lesson in the show. Yes, it is an older musical. Yes, it’s a show that has been popular for multiple generations. Yes, there are other themes that can be pulled from the show, but this one really sticks with me and I think it’s one that can so easily be applied to kids even 80 years after the original movie premiered.”
Rehearsals began early January and Ploog-Bacik said the students are ready for the curtain to rise.
“The students in our show have been working so hard to create an exciting, colorful and hilarious show that pays respect to the original film while still giving it a new life with their own personalities and takes on each character. They have grown so much since we first started, and it is going to be a very fun production to watch,” she said.