Play is the first musical to involve almost the entire school, grades 1 to 12

Published on March 19, 2024 on

The Cowardly Lion spooks Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Toto. Photo courtesy Tere Casey of Oakwood School

By Mikaela Minoza

Somewhere over the rainbow in the Oakwood Theatre, audiences will witness how dreams really do come true in a student rendition of “The Wizard of Oz.”

This Morgan Hill school’s heartwarming production of the classic children’s story promises to make “troubles melt like lemon drops” as a girl from Kansas finds herself dropped by tornado into a strange land. “Dorothy” dons ruby slippers, follows the yellow brick road, and finds her way with her friends to discover the wonders of the Emerald City.

“Oz” is a milestone production for Oakwood School because it is the first musical play to involve almost the entire school, grades 1-12.

“The elementary school grades 1-5 all made poppies for our poppy field set, and grades 4-8 were invited to come participate as Munchkins and flying monkeys roles if they would like to,” said show director Colleen Blanchard. “We took about 20 of them into our cast so that we could augment with different ages to create the different height levels for the characters.”

The Oakwood high school/middle school teacher is excited this is the first big show some of the younger students are doing. “They get to see how the high schoolers rehearse and how the show is put together at a different level,” she said.

Two actresses portray “Dorothy” and the “Wicked Witch of the West.”  Oakwood senior Cambria Pace split the starring role of Dorothy with fellow senior, Ruby Salvatti. They remarked how the involvement of students from ages 5-18 makes this performance unique from past Oakwood shows as well as other high school renditions of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Photo courtesy Tere Casey of Oakwood School

“It’s really an all hands on deck sort of project,” Pace said. “I think that’s really cool because it’s nothing that Oakwood has ever done before.”

With a cast of more than 60 performers,  “Oz” holds various aspects to make the show different from other versions most people have seen, she said.

“I think it’s going to be different from other productions of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ mainly because of Mrs. Blanchard,” Pace said.  “All of the shows she puts on have touches of magic and it feels like Broadway Junior. They are always spectacular productions.”

Pace dug deep within “Dorothy’s” character to resonate with the psychological development she goes through. She pointed out how the Kansas set is filled with color when the heroine returns from her journey to the Emerald City. This symbolizes her growth and illumination of finding out what home truly means to her. The pivotal change, symbolized through a shift in set pieces, highlights the importance of the set changes and all of the moving parts involved in the show.

Splitting the role of “Dorothy” with Pace, Salvatti devotes a considerable amount of time to “unpack” the character’s motivations.

Photo courtesy Tere Casey of Oakwood School

“For Dorothy, I’ve had a bit of difficulty finding ways to really relate to her,” she said. “It’s helped me to really think about what her weaknesses are, what her motivations are, who she relies on when she needs help, and what really drives her as a character.”

Not only does this production involve a variety of grades, it brings in the help of other school departments, Blanchard said. The art students spent free time designing and painting an enormous backdrop for the stage to capture the essence of the show.

“(We) get more departments involved so that everyone can see how things come together,” she said. “We collaborate on ideas and incorporate the best of all the schools.”

Even a member of the Oakwood robotics team, Brendan Lyle, has been working alongside students from the visual arts department. He constructed the iconic “Oz” head, which Dorothy and the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man encounter when they first seek out the “Wizard.”

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Many actors work extremely hard to put together a fantastic show. Among them, Melanie Chipman, a senior, portrays the “Wicked Witch of the West.” This will be the first time Oakwood is incorporating “flight” with Chipman placed in a rig with cables and pulleys made by Dillon Hall that will have her soaring around the theater stage.

Reflecting on all of her previous roles as “semi-evil sidekicks,” Chipman feels thrilled to play the villainous character. Along with being part of the production, the role of the witch holds a cherished significance for her. Having witnessed family members and friends whom she has long admired perform in previous iterations of the show, she finds herself proud to follow in their footsteps and infuse the character with her own unique interpretation.

The enormous scale of the set involved in this production impresses stage manager Caitlin Kanazawa. The large quantity of the various components fit together like puzzle pieces. Some of them rotate to serve as multiple different sets, she said. As an artist, she felt in awe of the creativity, detail, and bright colors of every set piece.

Mikaela Minoza is a twelfth-grade student at Oakwood High School. She is a member of the “Wizard of Oz” cast and wrote this story for Gilroy Life.