Dorothy isn't in Kansas anymore.
She can be found most late afternoons and evenings at Brookfield East High School during rehearsals for the Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 production of "The Wizard of Oz."
The famous character is played by Erica Bridge, a senior and veteran of East's musicals, who is caught up in a whirlwind of excitement over a production that promises to mix technology-driven theatrics with a heavy dose of character-driven story that will attempt to be true to the MGM movie.
Bridge said competition for the role of Dorothy was tough.
"There's a lot of talent at East, and there were a lot of girls who wanted the part," Bridge said. "It's an iconic role so I gave it my all."
To prepare for the auditions, Bridge worked privately with a voice teacher while studying the original movie. She said she wanted to get Judy Garland's exact cadences.
"We all knew last May that this was the production," she said. "We knew that they wanted to create as much of the original movie as possible.
"Everybody knew how hard I worked."
Bridge had a full resume going into auditions. She had already played major roles in productions of "White Christmas," "Mame" and "Grease."
Serious lead actress
But this is her first time in the starring role.
Bridge said she really had to think about Dorothy's character throughout the auditions and now in rehearsals. She sees her as vulnerable.
Working hard for just four performances is worth it, she said.
"What really makes it special is that there's nothing like performing on stage," she said. "You can feel the audience watching you while you are in character as something you are not."
Bridge plans to continue studying drama as she pursues admission to schools such as Marymount Manhattan College in New York City and Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.
Behind the scenes
Another senior, Danny Mirda, said he will pursue a medical degree, but loves working behind the scenes at the school productions. He is in charge of a crew doing makeup.
The production is challenging because of the number of prosthetics required for the Wicked Witch, Scarecrow and flying monkeys. But it's worth the work.
"When you get into a production, it's almost like joining a family," Mirda said. "Friendships last longer than the production itself."
East's seniors are looking forward to the experience.
"Everyone is really excited to work on 'The Wizard of Oz,' " he said. "We all feel like we are going out with a bang this year. It's a last hurrah."
Dialing it back up
It's hardly a last hurrah for the director.
Corey Schneiderwent is in his second year at East. He serves as a co-director with Joshua Grant-Konegni, who joined the school last year as its theater department chairman.
After an ambitious first year producing "Grease" and "The Boys Next Door," Schneiderwent said he and Grant-Konegni were excited to tackle a classic story.
"A week after we agreed that we would not let up, we were biting off more than we could chew with the biggest musical you could do," he said.
And they are doing it in a big way, including hiring a specialty theater flying company to help the actors, including those playing flying monkeys, fly high above the stage at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts.
The Illinois company will provide the rigging, as well as props such as the "Good Witch bubble," Auntie Em's bicycle and a hot-air balloon gondola.
There will even be a real live Toto, played by Naomi, one of Grant-Konegni's Chihuahua terriers.
Despite those bells and whistles, Schneiderwent said, much care has been taken to tell the story.
"We wanted to be true to the original movie," he said. "We are in a rhythm here, and we can't wait to move over to the Wilson Center to put the final touches on the rehearsals.
"When we went through rehearsals, the leading girls were so talented in singing "Over the Rainbow" they had Joshua and me in tears. Erica was selected because she had the truest characterization. We expect that we will sell the available 2,500 seats for the four shows. Everyone knows the story. We want them to appreciate it as well as be entertained."
If You Go
WHAT: "The Wizard of Oz" by Brookfield East High School
WHERE: Wilson Center, 19805 W. Capitol Drive
WHEN: 7 p.m. Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 1; 2 p.m. Dec. 2
TICKETS: $16 for adults, $12 for seniors 60 and older, $10 for students and children
RESERVATIONS:Call (262) 781-9520
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