Molly Prefling and Cody Rooney may only be 8 and 9, respectively, but neither takes offense at being called “Munchkins.”
The two Ahwatukee youngsters are, after all, appearing on center stage at the Herberger Theater as Munchkins in the Valley Youth Theatre’s production of the “Wizard of Oz," a musical running through June 25.
And these two Ahwatukee youngsters have special roles made memorable in the classic 1939 motion picture. Molly is one of the baby ballerina members of the Lullaby League, and Cody is one of the three boys of the memorable Lollipop Guild.
Both say they are honored to be a part of the hardworking, 58-member cast that is presenting 24 shows in three weeks.
For Molly, a Kyrene de los Lagos third- grader, becoming part of the production required one audition and two call-backs.
“You have to wait and wait, and that’s very annoying,” said the brown-haired, petite youngster. “I was nervous, but I was also very excited.”
When the announcement of the cast was posted online, both she and Cody said they were ready to start rehearsals, which began in April and seriously ramped up last month.
They said they boned up for the production by watching the 78-year-old Technicolor movie.
“I’ve watched the movie a couple of times and it’s interesting,” said Molly.
Though she’s happy with her role, which includes stage time with Dorothy – to whom she presents a bouquet of flowers – she wasn’t as thrilled over her costume.
“I wear a baby bonnet. I’m dressed as a baby,” she moaned when describing her entirely pink outfit.
To her family, the Munchkin role seemed fitting for Molly.
“It was rather fun for us, as we’ve always called her Molly Munchkin,” said her mother, Laura Prefling, who along with husband Mike are among the parent volunteers for the show.
Molly started her thespian career at age 5, appearing in a summer theater camp production of “Jungle Book, Jr.” where she sang a solo “I Wanna Be Like You!”
“She blew me away,” recalled her mother. “Up to that point we had put her in a few different sport activities, but she didn’t really like any of them.
“I still can’t believe this shy little girl has the guts to go into an audition and sing for a group of strangers, much less get up on stage and perform for an audience,” Prefling added.
She also acted in another summer camp production, and two presentations of Ahwatukee Children’s Theater’s “A Christmas Carol.”
Cody, a Kyrene de la Estrella fourth-grader, is appearing in his first play, but probably not his last, as he awaits a callback for the August production of “Shrek the Musical,” also being presented at the Herberger Theater.
His is a theatrical family, as his older brother Lucas, 14, and sisters Noel and Jaymie, 13 and 11, respectively, are already involved in theater.
“Our house has always been filled with music,” said Cody. “We have three keyboards in our house, and we all play. I love that we can sing and practice whenever we need to, and it’s always loud in our house when all four of us are getting ready for an audition.”
Even callbacks for roles are a time for rejoicing at the Rooney household.
“When I got a callback for the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ I was very excited. And when I heard I got the part, Lucas said, ‘Good job, Cody, I’m proud of you.’ I want to be an actor when I grow up.”
For parents Misty and Josh Rooney, shepherding a family of thespians (eldest brother Kyle, a 2016 Desert Visa High grad was an athlete) requires certain guidelines.
“For one month, all four of the younger ones were practicing with different songs. One of the rules in our house is if you’re going to audition, you have to pick a theater song and perform it for us the night before,” said Misty Rooney, adding:
“Other rules include you can’t tell someone to quiet down, you must show respect for each other, and if you get feedback, you can’t take it personally.”
She said theater is a fortuitous outlet for her youngest child, who is allergic to the outdoors.
“He’s literally allergic to every type of grass and bush, and requires injections three times a week,” she said of her blond, blue-eyed youngster.
Despite their age difference, the two theatrically inclined brothers are close.
“I talked to my brother, Lucas, and he’d give me pointers on things while he was working on plays he was in,” said Cody, adding that he had always enjoyed watching his acting siblings getting ready for plays.
“Lucas runs lines with Cody in their room,” said their mom, who with her husband Josh also are parent volunteers for this production at the Herberger.
Tickets for the show at the Herberger, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix, are available at HerbergerTheater.org.