Friday, April 14, 2023

JSMS’s Wizard of Oz takes audience 'Over the Rainbow'

By Briana Bizier

There was a little magic in the air last Friday and Saturday as Jordan-Small Middle School students took to the stage for their annual performance. This year’s show traveled over the rainbow for a fantastic production of The Wizard of Oz that had audiences laughing, cheering, and ending with a standing ovation.

A student production of 'The Wizard of Oz' made its debut
at Jordan-Small Middle School in Raymond on April 7. 
The musical was directed by Tyler Costigan, who returned to Jordan-Small Middle School this winter along with choreographer Patricia Valley after leading last year’s performance of Willy Wonka. Adrienne Cote joined the production as the Musical Director, and together, the team found a much larger group of students interested in the drama program. Almost every student who had played a part in Willy Wonka returned to the stage this year, and plenty of newcomers joined the fun as well. “We have over forty students in this production,” Costigan told the audience on Friday night.

Forty middle school performers, with an additional dozen students helping backstage, might seem like a recipe for disaster. As the parent of one of those forty performers, this reporter had backstage access to the final Saturday matinee. The parent volunteers were prepared to usher students onstage or possibly help with forgotten lines, and we marveled at Costigan, Valley, and Cote’s calm demeanors.

Yet, when the show started, the volunteers found that the young performers and stage crew knew exactly what to do and where to go. The atmosphere backstage was mostly calm, with only a few tears; it is middle school, after all. Behind the scenes, stage manager Clay Perron led an efficient, black-clad stage crew who sold tickets, worked as ushers, and waited in the wings to move set pieces, and Sound Assistant Julia Doyon made sure the music matched the scenes.

Opening night was Friday, April 7. After months of rehearsal, the performance was nothing short of spectacular. Director Costigan made full use of the entire stage, relying on the space in front of the curtain for scenes featuring Dorothy and her companions and using the entire stage for large musical numbers or the appearance of Oz the Great and Terrible’s floating head.

The show opened in front of a little house with a picket fence in the land of Kansas, where Cadence O’Brian in her role as Dorothy Gale utterly captivated the audience from the very opening notes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. She was joined on stage by Isabelle Gonzalez, who played a sympathetic Aunt Em, and Franklin Murray as Uncle Henry as well as the actors who would go on to play the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, and even the Wizard of Oz.

After her decision to run away from home in order to save her beloved dog Toto, who was played with a very convincing bark by Riley Huff, Dorothy was swept away in a cyclone represented by streamer-waving dancers Sage Bizier, Addy Madsen, Liza Powers, and Maria Rossetti. The curtains then opened to reveal a rainbow-painted, flower-filled Munchkinland.

There, Dorothy was greeted by Glinda the Good Witch, played by an ethereal Rain Thomas, and welcomed by the Munchkin Mayor played by Alita Sargent, Barrister played by Alice Thibodeau, and Coroner played by Leo Roma, as well as the Lullaby League of Eisley Cohen, Isabelle Gonzalez, and Lauren Inman, and the Lollipop League of Eli Dulude, Miles Moreau, Addy Madsen, and Julianna Vasselor.

After leaving Munchkinland, it was time to follow the yellow brick road! Dorothy quickly met a friendly straw-stuffed Scarecrow longing for a brain, played by a charming Rex Freyre who was being harassed by crows played by Anica Messer, Rian Borella, and Franklin Murray. Some of the biggest laughs of the night came from the interactions between Freyre and three offended apple trees played by Eli Dulude, Layla Martin, and Tristan Wessel.

The Tin Man hoping for a heart was played by a charismatic Dylan Handlon, one of two eight graders ending his Jordan Small theatrical career with The Wizard of Oz, and Lilli Noble’s enthusiastic cowardly lion offered Dorothy flowers and almost stole the show with an amazing rendition of If I Were King of the Forest.

However, the Wicked Witch was not about to let Dorothy and her friends enter the Emerald City unchallenged. Played by Alyssa Dismore, who has the best evil laugh outside of Hollywood, the Wicked Witch of the West sent an army of Jitterbugs to dance Dorothy and her friends to sleep. Singers Eli Dulude, Arianna Libby, Anica Messer, Miles Moreau, Franklin Murray, Araia Peterson, Leo Roma, and Maria Rossetti performed a musical number that is probably still humming inside the audience’s heads while several familiar actors were joined by Zoe Hebert, Emma Horowitz, Paige Leveille, and Zoe Woodbury to flip, leap, and dance their way across the stage.

Naturally, the Wicked Witch’s plan failed, and Dorothy and her companions entered the Emerald City to see the Wizard after some hilarious negotiations with a strict doorman and guard played by Addy Madsen. They were greeted by the Ozians, a singing and dancing ensemble comprised of several actors in new green costumes as well as Bella Doyon, Clare Goan, Camryn Golebiewski, Theron McLauchlan, Alyse Powell, and Maci Sonia.

The Wizard’s first appearance had the audience gasping as a giant green head hovered above the stage, thanks to the hard work of technical director C.J. Payne and his team of volunteers from Windham High School. The Wizard promised to grant Dorothy and her friends their heart’s desire in exchange for the Wicked Witch’s broomstick.

As they attempted to enter the Wicked Witch’s castle, Dorothy and Toto were captured by an army of flying monkeys, led by Zoe Woodbury in the role of Nikko, and played by a group of actors reprising their earlier roles along with newcomer Lilly Britting. In order to rescue Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion infiltrated the Wicked Witch’s army of Winkies, led by Liza Powers and joined by Flynn Kamba as well as a group of actors who had hurriedly changed costumes backstage. When the three friends confronted the Wicked Witch to demand she release Dorothy, the stage was set for a pail of water to be thrown at the witch and one very impressive melting scene by actor Alyssa Dismore.

Dorothy and her friends presented the broom to the Wizard of Oz, but it was Riley Huff in her role as Toto who saved the day by pulling back the curtain to reveal the actual Wizard, played to great comedic effect by Lucy Payne. When the Wizard told the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion that they had what they wanted all along, I’m certain I wasn’t the only audience member with a few tears in her eyes. Although Dorothy couldn’t return to Kansas in the Wizard’s balloon, Glinda the Good Witch appeared to tell Dorothy to click her heels and repeat those magical words: There’s no place like home.

As the audience filed out into the chilly evening, several parents turned to me to say, “Wow, that was really impressive,” or “I can’t believe that was a middle school play!” However, the highest praise I heard for the Jordan Small Middle School performance of The Wizard of Oz came later that weekend. Inspired by the play, our family watched the iconic 1939 film starring Judy Garland. As the technicolor yellow brick road filled our screen, I asked my eight-year-old what he thought of the classic film.

“It’s pretty good,” he replied. “But the play was better.”<

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