Producing Wauwatosa West High School's latest theater production, 'The Wizard of Oz,' was a lot like putting together a puzzle, said theater director Adam Steffan.
And there were a lot of pieces.
The production, which opens April 15, swirls together details from the original novel, 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,' written by L. Frank Baum in the early 1900s and contemporary high school adaptations.
For example, audience members will notice the munchkin characters — all played by 53 elementary school students across seven schools — are each dressed in blue attire, which follows the original story as written in the book, Steffan said.
Audience members will also notice a number of special effects sprinkled throughout the show, like an opening scene in complete grayscale and that Dorothy's real-life dog, Toto, has a strict rehearsal schedule, too, just like every other member of the more than 200-person cast and crew.
'He's very well-behaved,' said Emily Pieper, a 16-year-old sophomore who plays Dorothy, of the dog. The pet, who belongs to one of the cast members, has spent hours rehearsing with the students and has practiced sitting in baskets at home with his owners to prepare for the show, Steffan said.
'It's unpredictable, but that adds to it,' Pieper said of the dog. 'He's never barked on stage, but he will lick your face.'
Added Molly Hess, 18, a senior who plays Glenda the Good Witch: 'Sometimes, when Emily is singing, he'll just sit there and cock his head and watch.'
As Glenda, Hess wears a large, blue dress, which pays more tribute to the original book than to the film, where the witch wears a pink gown. She enters and leaves scenes in a large bubble, which mimics a hula hoop in many ways. And, much of the time, she's flying.
The school brought in ZFX Inc., a complete service provider for all flying effects. The company offers preproduction advice, custom built equipment and installation help. Students are harnessed into safety belts and then lifted into the air using an intricate pulley system throughout many parts of the production.
The cast took an entire day to learn the ropes of the system from the professionals, but have since been rehearsing with students who will run the pulley system in its entirety come showtime. It's a little scary, admitted Hess, but it adds to the show's fun.
Also on rental from ZFX Inc. is a fake tornado used to re-create the classic scene that lands Dorothy in the land of Oz in the first place. Students use a pulley system backstage to make the tornado — comprised of dark fabric with lots of fringe — twirl across the stage.
'We wanted to stay true to the movie, but that's not a bad thing,' said Cobi Tappa, 18. Tappa portrays the scarecrow in the production.
Tappa said the school did not have an existing scarecrow costume, so one was created from scratch. The costume has fringe along the sleeves and even a special pocket where Tappa can stuff straw that may have fallen out on the stage — true to the character.
Before and after the approximate two hour production, showgoers can follow a yellow brick road to the lobby where volunteers will be selling things like lollipops while dressed in full costume.
'It's a family-friendly show,' Steffan said. 'They're in for a treat.'
IF YOU GO
SHOWTIMES for 'The Wizard of Oz' are 7 p.m. April 15, 16, 22 and 23 and 2 p.m. April 17.
TICKETS are $15 for students; $12 for seniors and students; $10 for seniors with gold passes and for students with activity passes; $8 for children 10 and under.
Online advanced ticket sale purchase is recommended. Visit trojanplayers.com for more information.