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Head ‘over the rainbow’ with West Kings: Wizard of Oz ready to hit the stage Feb. 21-25

The Scarecrow (Grade 12 student Carson Rafuse) gets some help to re stuff himself from Dorothy (Grade 10 student Sophie MacMillan) and the Good Witch (Grade 12 student Julie Rowe) during a rehearsal for West Kings production of The Wizard of OZ.
The Scarecrow (Grade 12 student Carson Rafuse) gets some help to re stuff himself from Dorothy (Grade 10 student Sophie MacMillan) and the Good Witch (Grade 12 student Julie Rowe) during a rehearsal for West Kings production of The Wizard of OZ. - Mark Goudge

AUBURN, NS - Sophie MacMillan was “over the rainbow” when she found out she’d be playing the lead role in this year’s musical at West Kings.

The Grade 10 student will hit the stage later this month as Dorothy in the school’s production of the iconic Wizard of Oz, based off an adaptation of Frank Baum’s novel and the 1939 MGM motion picture.

“The rehearsals have been coming along really well, it’s all coming together,” says MacMillan, who was thrilled to be cast in this year’s musical, set to hit the stage Feb. 21-25.

Director Harold Jessome agrees – although he kids, “this is when my stress levels start to go up.”

With just a few weeks left before the performance, he’s thrilled with the students’ efforts. They began preparing for the play in mid-October

“For the most part things are going well – there are always some bumps and grinds,” he said. “Last week, we started putting the cast together with the live orchestra, and that’s always a step back. But I think this is probably going to be an even better performance than last year’s – we have a dedicated cast, who is really committed to learning their lines and dances.”

Soon, the students will be off to see the wizard (played by Grade 12 student Liam Balsch), with favourites like Glinda the Good Witch (Grade 12 student Julie Rowe), the Scarecrow (Grade 12 student Carson Rafuse), the Cowardly Lion (Grade 12 student Caitlyn Strong) and the palace guard (Grade 12 student Oliver Cadrain) helping Dorothy out along the way.

“There are 36 in the cast, and by the time we put the show on, over 100 students will be involved,” he said. “They do all the makeup, costumes, tech, stage, front of house – that’s all student driven.”

The cast is large, Jessome says, with a few extra munchkins added beyond what’s called for in the script.

“I don’t turn anyone away – I’ll create a character or add in a munchkin if I have to,” he said.

“Drama Club membership doesn’t cost students a nickel – it’s the only activity at most high schools in the Valley where students don’t pay a fee. Considering what parents pay for their kids to pay hockey for a few months, and this is a totally free activity for six months, it’s a great deal.”

Strong community support

Jessome says the support from the community is what makes this possible for students – and ensures the musical each year is a success. That’s part of the reason West Kings always holds its productions early in the year.

“We have a better opportunity to get help from the community,” Jessome says. “We have people coming in to help build sets – they don’t have kids in the school, not even in the school catchment area. They just do it because they want to help out.”

Orchestra members come Windsor, Wolfville and Kentville to help out.

“Some are music teachers, others are butchers, bakers and candlestick makers,” Jessome adds. “They just love music.”

And then there’s the audience.

“We have such good support from the community that comes to watch that we generate a good income and are able to put a musical on,” he said. “By the end of it, it’s $8,000 or $9,000 to produce, once you pay for the rights, rent the materials, the sets, the stage makeup, all the other costs. The Valley’s awesome to help and to support us by watching, or else we couldn’t do this.”

MacMillan’s crossing her fingers that will hold true again this year as she prepares to don her ruby red slippers.

“People should come and see it because there is something in it for everyone,” said MacMillan. “It is good family entertainment and they have added some dance and more humour.”

This is MacMillan’s second year participating in one of the productions at West Kings – she was in last year’s performance of Legally Blonde as well – but her history with the show goes back much further. MacMillan says she enjoyed coming to see them when her sister was in them at the school as well.

“I knew, the first time I say in my seat and the lights came on, that I wanted to do this when I came to this school,” she says.

While she doesn’t plan to pursue acting after graduation, she is hopeful in performing in a few more productions over the years.

Other articles you may enjoy:

• West Kings students fundraising for band trip: http://www.kingscountynews.ca/living/None/west-kings-band-students-raising-funds-for-new-york-trip-175092/

• Overwhelming support for West Kings teacher injured in car crash: http://www.kingscountynews.ca/community/overwhelming-support-at-hockey-benefit-for-west-kings-teacher-injured-in-car-crash-73004/

• Retiring principal leaves West Kings grads with seven key points: http://www.kingscountynews.ca/community/retiring-principal-leaves-west-kings-grads-with-7-key-points-73329/

A story everyone can relate to

Most people are familiar with the story, says Jessome, which makes it ideal for students to perform.

“It’s a classic, it’s certainly family-friendly,” he said. “There’s something in this show that everyone can relate to. Dorothy comes from a small town – and that’s something all of us in the Valley can understand – and she can’t wait to get out of there.”

Jessome points to his own daughter as a great example of a real Dorothy-like figure.

“When she was younger, she couldn’t wait to get out of the Valley, said there was nothing for her here,” he said. “Now she’s 23, and can’t wait to come home. What’s the last line of the play? ‘I want to go home, I want to go home’. That’s something these kids will be able to relate to.”

Choosing a play for a school musical can be a difficult task at times. A lot of the Broadway musicals are eliminated from contention because they aren’t appropriate for students, and given the size of the cast, Jessome goes searching for performances that can accommodate a lot of roles.

“The last couple of years, we did something edgier – Legally Blonde, West Side Story – so I thought it was time to do something more family oriented,” he said. “We’re a Grade 9-12 school, so I hope to have these cast members for four years. I like to give them different experiences every year – West Side Story was definitely very serious and challenging, while Legally Blonde was more contemporary. The Wizard of Oz? It’s just whimsical and fun.”

If you go: The Wizard of Oz will be show at West Kings High School in Auburn Feb. 21-25, with shows at 7:30 p.m. nightly and a 2 p.m. matinee Feb. 25. Tickets are $15 for adults or $10 for students. To book tickets, call 902-848-1159 or email westkingsoztickets@gmail.com

If you go: The Wizard of Oz will be show at West Kings High School in Auburn Feb. 21-25, with shows at 7:30 p.m. nightly and a 2 p.m. matinee Feb. 25. Tickets are $15 for adults or $10 for students. To book tickets, call 902-848-1159 or email westkingsoztickets@gmail.com

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