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Behind the Scenes

Massasoit theater transports young performers to Oz

Rehearsing “The Wizard of Oz” are (front) Kelly Ferguson as Dorothy, Alexander Hagerty as the Cowardly Lion, (standing) Christopher Spencer as the Scarecrow, and Nick Paradiso as the Tin Man.

Massasoit Theatre Company

Rehearsing “The Wizard of Oz” are (front) Kelly Ferguson as Dorothy, Alexander Hagerty as the Cowardly Lion, (standing) Christopher Spencer as the Scarecrow, and Nick Paradiso as the Tin Man.

The talented youngsters from the Mary E. Baker Elementary School will follow the yellow brick road to their first stage musical experience when the Massasoit Theatre Company performs “The Wizard of Oz” this weekend.

A hundred fourth- and fifth-grade school chorus members are taking the parts of the Munchkins, the little people of Munchkin Land, to perform the musical numbers that have charmed and beguiled generations after Dorothy and her little dog are transported there by a storm from her Kansas home. The Baker School’s collaboration with the community theater company based at Massasoit Community College is part of a pilot program called Schools on Stage.

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The production show follows the famous 1939 movie version of the book by Frank Baum that gave us classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung by the film’s star, Judy Garland. The Munchkins had some great songs, too, and the Baker School student chorus will get to perform them in costume.

“We’re going to fill the stage with a lot of talented kids,” said music teacher and choral director Jennifer Sterling of Holbrook.

“They will do the entire Munchkin Land sequence,” she said. “That includes ‘Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead’ and ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road.’ ”

The mere mention of the song titles usually brings smiles to people’s faces. “It’s a classic,” Sterling said of the sequence. “Everybody responds to it.”

Chorus members are chosen by audition from the large Brockton elementary school’s enrollment of 750.

“They’re very excited,” Sterling said. “They’re not used to acting on stage and wearing costumes.”

She also showed the classic film in her classes to make sure all her students had seen it.

The collaboration with Massasoit brought the theater company’s director and choreographer, Corinne Mason, to the school to work out the choreography and rehearse with the youngsters.

Drawing students into the company’s productions is part of a pilot program designed to give students a real theatrical experience in a city that’s short on performing arts opportunities, said Mark Rocheteau, the show’s producer.

“We’re trying to cultivate that connection,” Rocheteau said last week from the college.

The production benefits from the high-quality stage facility at Massasoit, he said. The recently renovated theater has 420 seats with a full stage and modern lighting and sound options. The stage also has a “thrust” extension into the hall, resulting in “three-quarters round” seating for the audience.

For the set of “Oz,” the company built a yellow brick road that wraps around the thrust.

With two weekends of performances (three shows in each) coming up, the student chorus was divided in half, each group performing for one weekend.

Mason said her show’s cast come from all over the south suburbs. The central and demanding role of Dorothy is played by Kelly Ferguson, a recent Massasoit graduate now studying at Bridgewater State University.

“The interesting thing is her voice lends itself to that jazzy crooning and swooning sound that Garland brought to the songs, such as ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ” Rocheteau. said. “Everyone lights up when she sings.”

Massasoit student Alex Hagerty plays the Cowardly Lion, the role made famous by film comedian Bert Lahr. “It’s a physical role, lots of rolling around. He’s a student, but he’s performance-ready,” he said.

Mason called the actors taking the parts of the film’s “fab four” — Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow — young actors with “old souls.”

Chris Spencer, who has a master’s in music education from the University of Massachusetts Boston, is the Scarecrow. Massasoit student Nick Paradiso is the Tin Man.

Mason, who has been working in theater in the Boston area for 15 years, studied at a conservatory in New York and then got her master’s from Emerson College in Boston. She directs “all over the place,” including The Company Theatre in Norwell and runs a summer stage company for the Lyric Stage Company in Boston.

A singer herself, she performed last month in the musical “The Drowsy Chaperone” at The Company Theatre.

Like many, she grew up loving “The Wizard of Oz” and catching it on TV in the days when families watched the film’s annual showings together.

“It was actually a little bit intimidating to find out I would be directing something so iconic,” Mason said.

Not only will the show’s set boast a yellow brick road, designers will also build a set that looks like Munchkin Land, the city of Oz, and “a witch’s castle with a huge, winding staircase,” Mason said. “We’re lucky we have a huge stage. The set is gigantic.”

Professional costume maker Jen Spagone of Brockton made all of the costumes — including showtime duds for 100 Munchkins.

A community theater, the Massasoit Theatre Company put on three shows this year.

“We have a great collaborative team,” Mason said.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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