WILMINGTON- “Quiet on the set,” yells Andy Hauty, his eyes aimed at the back of Memorial Hall. “Quiet please, quiet,” he tries again. This time a volley of shushes follows, bringing the hall to silence, a hard task when dealing with 18 flying monkeys anticipating a lunch break.
But Hauty is patient. He knows he’s directing something special. a performance he refers to as “the kitchen sink of musicals,” and this last week of practice is going off without a hitch. In its second year, the WINGS program district musical has assembled a cast of over 40 students and eight adults to put together a production of “Oz.” But this production refuses to follow a script, incorporating multiple dance styles, trapeze work, acrobatics, and the rap song “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore (a clean version, of course).
The cast includes students from Halifax School, Deerfield Valley Elementary School, Twin Valley Middle School, Dover School, and Twin Valley High School, as well as adults, taking part in the program’s two-week performing arts camp. This production, however, began in January as students began to learn the more complicated dances and acrobatics that weave into the show. Last year the program did a production of “Neverland,” which included 50-plus local students.
“It’s going to be a lot similar to last year’s performance in that it’s not going to be following the script of ‘Oz’” said Hauty. “They (the performers) are more engaged because we keep it very current and use modern influences, and they gravitate more to it that way.”
The kids involved begin to learn their scenes, lines, and dances at their individual schools where many have participated in school productions before. The students then bring what they learn by heart to performing arts camp where they combine with a live band, a projector, the lights, and the big stage to create something they all find pride and enthusiasm in.
Garrett Williams, a sophomore at TVHS and a district musical first-timer, said that the multidimensional aspect of the show makes it that much more exciting for him, and his fellow cast members. “If we did it normally I don’t think it would be as much fun,” said Williams, who plays the Cowardly Lion.
“It’s unbelievable how fun it is,” said Desmond Avallone, who plays Auntie Em. “At first it was overwhelming, but as we saw all the portions of it come together, it was unbelievable, and everyone has a lot of energy that they put into it.”
Megan Kehoe, as the Wicked Witch of the East, gets to introduce herself in rocking fashion, singing “Bad to the Bone” to showcase her character’s evil intentions shielded by a charming ruse.
Hauty says that the students are such naturals that the program picks the production based around the talent they have. According to Hauty, this will help develop the program into a lasting one. “What we want to do is raise the capacity of each performer. They get exposure to dancing, singing, and acting, and all the other elements. We’ll now have a population of performers for the following years.”
“It’s like playing on a basketball team, It’s team building, and developing skills, so next year we’ll have more people, more capabilities, and we can broaden out to a production that has more actors like ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which has more roles.”
The show features an entire music pit as well, appropriately named the Emerald City All-Stars. Led by local musicians Jean Chaine and Greg Burnell, the All-Stars feature keyboards, drums, saxophone, violin, guitar, and bass. Bobby Edwards is loaning his technical assistance as well, running the projectors and visual aids.
Last year Lauren Sumner played Wendy in the district performance of “Neverland,” and this year she hasn’t shied away from the spotlight either, playing Dorothy, a character she describes as a bit “cheesy,” carrying her trusty dog Toto the entire way back to Kansas.
“I love all the different dynamics,” said Sumner. “I love the cast too. It’s really cool working with so many different age groups.”
The most gravity-defying dynamics will be performed by Sumner doing a fabric dance with a Spanish web at the top. And then there are the Flying Monkeys, 18 excited elementary students following the lead of their older counterparts, having fun, but acting professional on stage. “They’re all still kids, and it’s sometimes hard to get them up there, but once they are on stage they’re such professionals,” said Williams.
“Everyone here are big brothers and sisters,” added Avallone. “We have to be role models, which we may not always do, but there’s just no fighting and it’s fun.”
Admission to “Oz” at Memorial Hall is $7, with $1 of every ticket purchase going to the WINGS charitable fund. Children under 5 are free. Showtimes are 7 pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, June 28 to 30.
“To me, it’s remarkable everyone can pull it all together in just two weeks,” said Hauty. “ The musical is something the valley has seen once if they saw “Neverland” last year, but I think they’ll be stunned when they see this performance.”