‘Wizard of Oz:' Missoula Children’s Theatre’s captured kids imagination at Museum Center
by Sara Dawson
Mar 27, 2013 | 2306 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A wonderful Wizard of Oz!
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THE FIERCE AND FEROCIOUS FLOWERS encircle the Tin Man (Kennedy Brown), Scarecrow (Dan Watson of Missoula Children’s Theatre), Toto (Lindsey James), Dorothy (Sarah Cobb) and the Lion (Lauren Goldston) in the recent performance of “The Wizard of Oz” at the Museum Center at Five Points. Banner photo, SARA DAWSON
The Museum Center at Five Points filled up with laughing munchkins, mysterious magicians, fierce and ferocious flowers, and many other characters on March 23 as 60 local children and teens presented “The Wizard of Oz” as part of a weeklong residency program with Missoula Children’s Theatre.

The version of the classic story used in the performance was conceived and written by Jim Caron, with music and lyrics by Michale McGill, Bob Hubley and David Simmons.

Dan Watson and James Scotland, the two Missoula Children’s Theatre tour staff members for this year’s residency, held auditions, ran rehearsals and coached the participants in their roles. Watson was onstage with the children as Uncle Henry and Scarecrow, while Scotland directed the show.

Scotland also had the help of three student assistant directors, Christopher Dodson, Anie Ingram and Abigail Rogers, to put on the show.

This is the eighth season for the Montana-based Missoula Children’s Theatre residency at the Museum Center.

Auditions for the show were held March 18, and participants practiced for approximately five hours each night of the week as well as all day Saturday before performing two shows on Saturday afternoon.

“This is probably one of our most popular programs,” said Jennifer White, curator of education at the Museum Center at Five Points. “We filled every last spot.”

Many of the participants have gotten involved in this program for years. Rick and Chery Cresswell have brought their son Joshua, who played the Wizard this year, for four years to participate in the residency.

“It’s a crazy week, but it’s great they can do a show from start to finish in a week,” Chery said, stating that it left time for Joshua to play sports in the spring as well as act in the play.

Chery also mentioned the residency is something Joshua, as a home-schooled student, looks forward to every year since some of the same children participate each year.

Along with being able to complete an entire play within a week, the team travels with all of the sets, costumes and equipment for the show, allowing parents to just sit back and watch their children have fun.

Jennie Ferguson and her daughter Marti, who played a Winky, traveled from Soddy-Daisy to be a part of the week at the Museum Center.

“It’s a long, exhausting week, but it’s fun. We love the program,” said Ferguson, who also home-schools her daughter. “It’s so nice to have an activity that you can sit back on.”

Ferguson tracks the touring residencies from Missoula Children’s Theatre and tries to make a way for Marti to be involved whenever MCT is in the area. This is their third year participating in the Cleveland program.

Teams from Missoula Children’s Theatre travel all over the United States and Canada as well as various other countries each year, bringing different shows and producing them in one week.

Jeani Featherngill remembers participating in residencies with Missoula Children’s Theatre when she was growing up in Nebraska. This year, she brought her 5-year-old daughter Kennin to the program at the Museum Center to be a Fierce and Ferocious Flower in the play.

“She really loves every minute,” Featherngill said.

Rich DeWitt’s daughter Ella was also a Flower in the show. While this is her first year, the DeWitt family has participated in the program before with Ella’s brother Ben. Ben was sick during this year’s show, but Ella really enjoyed herself, her father said.

“It’s always a great experience,” DeWitt said.

The two-man team of Watson and Scotland traveling with “The Wizard of Oz” received praise from the parents, as well, for their ability to lead 60 children of all ages to give a performance in one week.

“It’s amazing how they all get it together,” Rick Cresswell said. “It transforms.”

The well-trained professionalism of all of the teams from Missoula Children’s Theatre is one reason they are always invited to come back to the Museum Center, White said.

“That’s what makes it worth the money to bring them in. They’re so positive with the kids,” White said. “The kids are encouraged, emboldened and empowered by the program.”

Many of the participants continue coming back year after year because of their experiences with the program. Trinity Dodson was an assistant director for last year’s production of “The Secret Garden.” This year, she returns to the program as a Magician.

“It was fun last year, so I decided to try out again,” Dodson said, adding that she loved wearing all the costumes for her part as a Magician.

The residency is funded in part by grant money, as well as by local donors and businesses. For the first time this year, the Museum Center sold advertising space in the programs as a way to raise money.

Even though the program lost state funds this year because of recent cuts, the Museum Center was still able to keep the price the same for participants through advertisement sales and local sponsorship of the program.

“I feel like this community has always supported the arts so well that we could locally fund it,” White said. “That’s the kind of support you see in a community that’s arts-positive.”

White is already in the process of applying for grants to fund next year’s residency program and is hopeful the Museum Center will receive help in funding the program. She also mentioned the possibility of extending the program by adding a week in the summer, starting in 2014.

Having a summer weeklong program would allow students who have conflicts during the school year to participate in the productions, as well as shorten the days of participants who come straight from school to the five-hour rehearsals.

In the March 23 productions of “The Wizard of Oz,” 10 magicians (Ashleigh Arrington, Luke Bixler, Clay Black, Riley Black, Trinity Dodson, Julia itson, Ben Monroe, Sarah Plank, Mecalah Walsh and Olivia Wright) help to tell the story of Dorothy (Sarah Cobb) and Toto (Lindsey James) as they venture over the rainbow to the land of Oz.

Dorothy’s house is discovered by a farmer Munchkin (Kylee Weir), who runs and tells Mayor Munchkin (Annie Brown), and soon a crowd of munchkins (Aminah Hamidi, Tarik Hamidi, Jenna Liner, Faith Livingston, Sara McKay, Elizabeth Myers, Brayden Simmons, Maci Simmons, Novalee Stalcup and Anna Thompson) has gathered to greet her.

Just like in the classic tale, Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Collette Bliss) tells Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz so that he can help her get back to Kansas.

Along her way, Dorothy encounters a Scarecrow (Dan Watson of Missoula Children’s Theatre), a Tin Man (Kennedy Brown) and a cowardly Lion (Lauren Goldston).

The group of friends must face the Wicked Witch of the West (Leah Richmond) and her flying Winkies (Gracie Cooper, Cassia Ditto, Marti Ferguson, Mabry Helms, Dallas Hill, Natalie Monroe, Hannah Plank, Colby Rogers, Aubrey Swartzel, Lauren Thompson and Eva Callais).

When Dorothy and her friends finally make it to the Emerald City, The Green Guard (Cameron James) escorts them to meet the terrifying Wizard (Joshua Cresswell). He sends them on a quest to kill the Wicked Witch before he will grant their wishes.

The Wicked Witch sends her Fierce and Ferocious Flowers (Amanda Arrington, Emmi Black, Drew Cooper, Bradyn Crowder, Jacob Crowder, Ella DeWitt, Kennin Featherngill, Amirah Hamidi, Nathan Hanrahan, Rayann Helms, Alayna Itson, Evan Rogers, Emalyn Simmons and Ashlyn Weir) to make the group of friends fall fast asleep.

All is finally set right when Toto saves the day with a bucket of water, and Glinda tells Dorothy how to make it home to Kansas. She is greeted by Uncle Henry (Dan Watson of Missoula Children’s Theatre) and shares the lesson she has learned: “My home is in my heart, and my heart is in my home.”

Missoula Children’s Theatre International Tour has been traveling to different communities for 40 years. In 2013, it will work with 65,000 children in more than 1,200 communities in all 50 states and 17 countries.