Holyoke Catholic to present ‘Wizard of Oz’ on Sept. 20, 21, 27, 28
Story and photos by Stephen Kiltonic
SPRINGFIELD – When it was first released in 1939, “The Wizard of Oz” was not a box-office smash.
But over the years, the musical fantasy based on the book by L. Frank Baum, has become one of America’s best-loved films of all time. This Hollywood classic will be revived by the Holyoke Catholic High School Performing Arts Club during four performances staged at Commonwealth Academy’s Rutenber Auditorium over the next two weekends.
Eva Stockhamer, who oversees the school’s performing arts program and is the director of the musical, said audiences may see something a little bit different than the movie.
“We rented the rights for the actual adaption from the movie but we merged it with the stage version, so we allowed more children to have a few more roles, mostly small speaking roles,” Stockhamer said. “So, it’s kind of a merge but it’s everything that the audience who loves the ‘Wizard of Oz’ is expecting.”
This month just happens to be the 75th anniversary of the movie which, Stockhamer said, she took into consideration when it came to the costuming. “I kind of had a real vision about that. The costumes are very bright,” she said. “Our staging is very bright but not so whimsical that it’s silly. It’s very appropriate. We have a lot of little surprises we think every audience member is going to enjoy.”
One of the surprises is the use of a real dog named Bella in the role of Toto. Bella is the pet of cast members Noah and Jordan Green, who jokingly suggested Bella for an action part.
“She’s been a blessing. She looks like Toto and she’s lovely to work with,” Stockhamer said. “It’s been a great experience. As long as Toto is where she’s supposed to be and doesn’t jump off the end of the stage and stays safe, we’re happy.”
People will see all the movie’s characters including Dorothy Gale, Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, Miss Gulch, Glinda, the Munchkins and Professor Marvel, along with the Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion. And the original songs also are included, such as “Over the Rainbow,” which won an Academy Award in 1939 for Best Original Song. Even one of the original numbers which was cut from the movie, “The Jitterbug,” also will be performed.
Caroline McHugh, a senior and a veteran of many Holyoke Catholic plays, says she watched the movie a number of times in preparation for her lead role as Dorothy. “I was very familiar with it (‘Wizard of Oz’). It’s my mom’s favorite movie so I’ve seen it a lot as a kid. I was pretty surprised that people haven’t seen it before,” said McHugh, who added that she tries to emulate Judy Garland as Dorothy as much as possible because it’s such a well-known role.
Chad Nowlan, a junior who has also been involved in numerous Holyoke Catholic plays since his freshman year, said he’s always aspired to be the Scarecrow.
“I kind of took it and interpreted it the way I thought the Scarecrow was but still keeping those aspects of him that everybody knows and loves from the movie,” Nowlan explained. “I’m trying to be as loose and fall a lot just like I’m made of straw.”
While the Scarecrow’s signature song is “If I Only had a Brain,” he said he’s also had fun singing and dancing to “The Jitterbug.”
“I’ve seen it done so many different ways and now being able to be a part of it is a really cool experience,” said Nowlan.
The cast and crew, which numbers close to 70, has been rehearsing since June. Stockhamer said the “Wizard of Oz” was truly a labor of love for all those involved.
“These kids participate all summer for no academic credit, three days a week, four hours at a time. Their parents volunteer. They come and help with the set building as well. It’s a wonderful way for them to socialize all summer but it’s a lot of hard work,” said Stockhamer, who added that no student who tries for any play is cut; everyone participates, even incoming freshmen. Some of the colorful props include an elaborate Scarecrow’s cornfield and Munchkin Land, which was hand painted and designed by a student.
This is Holyoke Catholic’s first full season at Commonwealth Academy, formerly the MacDuffie School. Rutenber Auditorium, which houses the theater that seats 260 people, has “wonderful” acoustics and is the first “real” auditorium the performing arts program has had in a while.
“It’s just been the accumulation of a lot of hard work for everyone especially being in a new space,” said Nowlan. “So, being able to finally see it tonight with everyone in costume and all the set pieces finally here, it’s really nice to be able to finally see it all come together the way we imagined it to.”
Show dates are Sept. 20, 21, 27 and 28 at 7 p.m. Tickets may be purchased in advance by calling Karen at 413-737-4942.