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Meet ‘The Wiz’

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By Kirsten Laskey

Walking into the band room at Los Alamos High School, it was immediately clear that the school’s Olions Thespian Club was presenting a unique spring musical. A group of students were rehearsing ballet in the center of the room while a few others raced around wearing clown costumes that displayed amazing combinations of colors and patterns. On the edge of the room, a girl strolled around on purple wooden stilts.

This odd yet fantastic scene seems very fitting to the musical the high school drama club is presenting, “The Wiz.”

Holly Haas, who is directing the play along with Olions sponsor and theater teacher Nina Saunders, explained the play was first performed on Broadway in the 1970s. The music features of mixture of gospel, rock n’ roll, blues and jazz.

An all black cast portrayed a modified version of the classic story, “The Wizard of Oz.” The story takes Dorothy away from the farm in Kansas and puts her under the Big Top. Haas said the musical shows Dorothy growing up in a circus. Her parents died after a trapeze accident and she is raised by her aunt and uncle. Although it claimed her parents’ lives, Dorothy dreams about becoming a trapeze artist.

Suddenly, a tornado appears which causes Dorothy to bump her head and dream about a fantastic side-show circus. In this dream, she meets the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and, of course, “The Wiz.”

While it follows the original story, “The Wiz,” ventures into its own interpretations of the famous story. For instance, Glinda in the musical represents Dorothy’s mom and the yellow brick road is symbolized by performers doing an African dance.  

Haas said the Olions Board of Directors chose this particular musical to perform. Many of the actors seemed excited about the directors’ choice.

“I’m super excited about this show because it has a lot of little parts but every part has an important role,” Arica Baughman, who plays Dorothy, said.

She added the costumes and sets are “awesome.”

Amanda Jalbert, who plays the Wiz, added she enjoyed her character. “I’m evil, well kind of evil,” she said cheerfully. “I’m having fun being crazy and eccentric and bad and good all at once.”

Craig Mortensen, who portrays the Scarecrow, also embraced the opportunity to act crazy on stage. He added it will be his last chance to do so on the high school’s stage.

”I’m excited because it’s going to be my last role.”

He has performed with the Olions for four years.

Bob Collum, who has the role of the Tin Man, said, “It’s a challenge. I enjoy it.”

Evan Bolton, who plays the Cowardly Lion, added, “I’ve enjoyed the process and doing my first musical.”

From performances to the costumes, students have played an active role in the production.

Kenda Bultman, the costumer, said she has enjoyed working with the young thespians.

“I think what I like is the kids get all excited when I bring in their costumes,” she said. “So far everyone has been really excited about what they’ve gotten.”

She’s had to the chance to produce realistic costumes such as the Cowardly Lion costume to more artistic pieces such as the 1920s’ style suit worn by the Scarecrow.

“I’ve been able to do a whole bunch of things,” she said.

Bultman who also designs costumes for local ballet companies, isn’t the only outside resource the Olions have invited to take part in this musical.

Haas said several elementary and middle school students are performing in this play and a 20-piece orchestra was assembled to perform live music for the performances.

Plus, Wise Fool, a performing arts company in Santa Fe, lent its expertise with the stilts and other circus props. Cathy Bearden and Susan Baker Dillingham offered their expertise on the musical’s choreography.  

Colleen Fearey and Curtis Schramm, who learned the art of stilt walking, seemed to enjoy their new skill.

Fearey said, “I like walking on the stilts. It makes me feel tall.”

Schramm added, “It’s just fun to learn to work with unusual stuff.”

The Olions will present “The Wiz,” at 7 p.m. Friday and at 2:30 and 7 p.m. Saturday. The show will continue to run at 7 p.m. April 30, 7 p.m. May 1 and 2:30 p.m. May 2. The performances will be in Duane Smith Auditorium.