DHS creating Land of Oz

Holli Gandy works on the backdrop that will be used in the DHS adaptation of the Wizard of Oz.

Holli Gandy works on the backdrop that will be used in the DHS adaptation of the Wizard of Oz.

Local playgoers will be off to see the wizard March 7-10 as the Demopolis High School holds its annual spring production. For this year’s musical, the DHS theater group will transform the stage of the Demopolis High School Auditorium into the Merry Old Land of Oz as a collection of 54 students from around the city school system come together to put their spin on the classic Wizard of Oz.

“I think it is just that everybody can relate to it. Almost everybody knows the show. If they haven’t seen the movie, they’ve seen the images. ‘I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore’ is just a phrase now in pop culture. I think everybody loves that transformation into this fantasy world where everything is happy and we don’t really have any problems other than the witch,” Demopolis High theater teacher Jody Tartt said of the wide appeal the show possesses. “I think that the conflicts that the Tinman and the Scarecrow and Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion face are conflicts that everybody can relate to in real life, not having any confidence in yourself. The Scarecrow learns that he really did have a brain. The Tin Man learns that he was one of the most sincere people even though he thought he didn’t have a heart. And the Cowardly Lion learns that he had to have courage to get to where he was and Dorothy learns that home is where the heart is.”

The iconic principle roles will be tackled by a number of students getting their first cracks at starring parts.

DSC01251Portraying Dorothy will be Kaitlyn Waldrop. Garrett Miller will take on the mantle of the Tinman while Sydney Pettus brings to life the Scarecrow and Shannon Pittman brings the bad as she gives character to the dastardly Wicked Witch of the West.

Assuming the role of the cowardly lion is senior Tony Nicholson, a former DHS athlete who had one of his legs amputated last summer as the result of a shooting.

“(That) is just an awesome metaphor for courage given the obstacles that he has overcome and he has just attacked this role like any challenge he has ever had in sports or anything like that,” Tartt said of the lion’s quest for courage as portrayed through Nicholson. “It hasn’t slowed Tony down one bit. He’s dancing and jitterbugging and just doing all sorts of stuff in the show.”

While the principle characters stand as the emblematic figures in the minds of Oz fans, the DHS production of the long-time favorite is unique to the department in that it is actually a DCS production.

For the first time, the Demopolis HIgh School Theater Department has opened its stage to students from other schools within the system.

“I’ve always wanted to do a systemwide show because I have people come up to me all the time saying, ‘I wish that there was something for the little children to do.’ And I worked at the Canebrake this summer and had the orphans from Oliver that were so talented. It has just been a goal of mine for a long time and Wizard of Oz is the perfect show for that because you can only cast so many high school students as munchkins,” Tartt said before noting that the initiative has not come without challenges. “I guess the biggest obstacle is just scheduling them separate from the high school students because, even though the munchkins are only in two scenes, those two scenes are really big and staging is always a lot more challenging for younger children. They learn the songs very quickly but learning where to go while they’re singing is always much more difficult. I’ve had less rehearsal time with them than I have with the high school students. Just the logistics of it is probably the biggest challenge. They’re a really bright group of kids.”

While corralling and coaching 54 students into becoming the populous of Oz is difficult in and of itself, perhaps the most challenging aspect of the production has come in the effort to convert a stage into the multichromatic landscape that is Dorothy’s fantasy world.

“That makes it so challenging because people have an image in their mind of what they expect to see when they see the Wizard of Oz. You have to be true to some of that. I think you can only take so much creative license with it or you’re asking people to make a paradigm shift that just doesn’t exist,” Tartt said.

While the costumes have to be specific and the portrayals of each character have to be reasonably within the expected range of a familiar audience, injecting the stage with the visual vibrance that is Oz presents a whole new set of challenges.

To help meet those challenges, Tartt turned to local art enthusiast Lynda Ray, who has previously lent her myriad of artistic talents and expertise to stage productions at the Canebrake Theater.

For the Wizard of Oz, Ray has spent time with Tartt’s Theater Design II class, helping the class to learn and implement the techniques needed to create the backdrop of Oz as well as the lollipop bushes and other assorted staples of the landscape.

“You’re trying to replicate something as best you can on a budget and given the time constraints that you have,” Tartt said. “Lynda Ray has been a huge help. You really can’t do this show without a backdrop. When you come into Munchkinland and the Land of Oz, you’ve got to have something visual back there. They love working with her. She has done a fabulous job.”

The Wizard of Oz will open March 7 and run through March 10. Curtain will be at 7 p.m. March 7-9 and at 2 p.m. March 10.