They’re off to see the wizard…

Valley actors who are performing in The Wizard of Oz presented by Theater League

When the Theater League production of “The Wizard of Oz” rolls into town next week, ten Valley youth ages 8-12 will be joining the national touring cast for nine performances — taking place Dec. 6 & 7 at the Mesa Arts Center, and Dec. 8-11 at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix.

The youth were invited to participate through Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale, and have been learning their lovely Munchkin moves the past several weeks with choreographer Jodie Weiss. Andrea Parker-Swenson, whose daughter Olivia is one of the 10 Munchkins, has been serving as event coordinator. Maureen Dias is the company’s producing artistic director.

Mercedes Bischoff of Scottsdale, a 12-year-old 7th grader at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School, admits to being “a little bit nervous” given the size of the venues where they’ll be performing. She last performed in “Disney’s Aladdin, Jr.” on the Greasepaint Youtheatre stage. “It might be a bit intimidating,” says Bischoff.

An early gathering Munchkins with choreographer Jodie Weiss

Bischoff tells me they’ll be performing in the scene featuring the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead,” and marching across the stage during a scene in act two. The style of dance they’ll be performing, she says, is probably best described as lyrical or jazz.

Despite rehearsing together Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for three weeks, the Munchkins have never once been able to try their moves on the stages where they’ll soon perform with the touring cast. Their only dress rehearsal will take place the day the show opens in Mesa. Bischoff says they’re expected to arrive at 3:30pm for the 7pm performance.

Costume fittings also take place on opening day, but Bischoff isn’t worried. Careful measurements were sent ahead to “The Wizard of Oz” folks so there shouldn’t be any surprises. “The only thing we’ve heard about our costumes,” says Bischoff, “is that they’re big and flowing, some pants and some dresses.”

Munchkins trying a few poses during an early session with Jodie Weiss

“Ever since I was little,” shares Bischoff, “I’ve wanted to be an actress on Broadway.” Her first community theater experience was performing in “The King and I” at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale when she was about five years old. The best part of being a Munchkin, she says, is learning all the steps — then getting to perform them with friends on the Orpheum and MAC stages.

This musical theater production of “The Wizard of Oz” is based on the Royal Shakespeare Company production inspired by the classic 1939 film — a movie Bischoff recalls watching often as a young child. But come next week, it’ll be her mom, dad and younger sister’s turn to watch. Because Mercedes and her friends are off to see the wizard….

— Lynn

Note: Greasepaint Youtheatre performs “Les Miserables” Jan. 20-29. Click here to learn more about their shows, workshops, camps, community outreach and more. Click here for “The Wizard of Oz” information and tickets. Mercedes Bischoff is in the center of the front/lower row in the top photo above (Photo by Andrea Parker-Swenson).

Coming up: Sticky fingers and snowy houses, Gallery welcomes young artists

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