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‘I don’t think we’re in Morris anymore’

MCHS cast transports audience to Oz

Cast members of Morris Community High School's upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz rehearse the music after school with band director Don Stinson and band students.
Cast members of Morris Community High School's upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz rehearse the music after school with band director Don Stinson and band students.

The two Dorothys are wonderful, the wicked witch is also very good, and the rest of the cast is super, according to science teacher and director Carolyn Dow.

But when it came to casting “The Wizard of Oz,”  Morris Community High School’s spring musical, Dow said she had three of her strongest senior male leads in mind from the very beginning.

“We have such talented seniors,” Dow said, “and I chose ‘Oz’ because of my three guys – Josh Hosek, Jacob O’Marrah, and Sean Phillips. They are the lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow. I think this is the best group of seniors I’ve ever worked with. And together with the rest of the cast, we have an amazing variety of talent.”

Oz is going to be a pretty big production this weekend, with an orchestra comprised of high school band students and adults and directed by band director Don Stinson, choir director Alyssa Napolitano as voice coach, the high school cast, 30 junior high actors as munchkins, 30 5-year-olds as the poppy fields, a crew of “flying” monkeys, jitterbugs, and a cast of football players and wrestlers that form the Palace Guard, singing “yoo-he-hoo! Yo-ho!”

“They make a presence,” Dow said of the Palace Guard. “They really added something different to the show.”

And there will be a non-human cast member, as well. Toto will be played by Penny Lane, a toy Maltese who belongs to the Haupt family and loves being in on the action.

There are two casts to the musical this year – an Emerald Cast and a Rainbow Cast. Dow said she had so much talent she decided to split them up. Some cast members remain the same, but there are two Dorothys, for example, and two wizards, one for each cast.

There are normally three showings of the school’s spring musical, but this year there will be five, or six if you include Monday’s performance to the town’s junior high students.

“It is going to be great,” Dow said. “It is all coming together. The audience is going to love it. We even have a yellow brick road that goes into the audience and a spinning house.”

The tin man, the lion, and the scarecrow are looking forward to the production, as well. All three knew the movie well and knew what they would be getting into.

“It’s a huge show,” tin man Jacob O’Marrah said. “At the beginning, I wasn’t sure how we would pull it off.”

Jacob remembers also going to see the Broadway musical, “Wicked,” with his junior high and enjoying it. He said it never would have occurred to him he would be playing one of the characters one day.

When Mrs. Dow told them what the high school musical would be this year, he said each one of the three had ideas who would play which character, and it wasn’t exactly how it was cast.

But after getting into the roles, they all agreed Dow knew what she was doing.

“The tin man’s character, he has a lot of heart,” Jacob said. “He’s got to be loveable and caring of everyone around him. I worked on bringing out the heart of the character.”

“He’s a very passionate person, and that’s the way Jacob is,” Josh Hosek said.

“And Josh is good at giving comic relief as the lion,” Jacob added.

Josh said he only came around to warming up to his character a couple of weeks ago. He never liked the lion in the movie nor play, he said, but the challenge of playing the comic character brought him around.

Both agreed that Sean, who excels in academics, was a perfect choice for the scarecrow, who thought he had no brains but was really the smartest of all.

“I tried to be smart, but humble,” Sean Phillips said of playing the scarecrow.

Being in the play is bittersweet for the three actors who have been in the school’s plays and musicals for four years. Knowing this will be their last production is already hitting a nerve, and they know that last performance will be a difficult one. But in the meantime, they are having fun in the roles.

“The best part is getting to act with such amazing actors on stage,” Jacob said. “It’s so much fun, like you’re a kid again.”

“I’m definitely grateful to have been able to work with everyone I’ve worked with,” Josh said. “We may not have the money here, but we definitely have the talent.”

“One of the greatest decisions I’ve made in high school was to be in the plays,” Sean said. “The camaraderie is great. You can’t compare it to anything else. It builds confidence, too, and it gives you a love of life.”

The three actors all said their favorite production of the last four years was “Little Shop of Horrors.” They also said they have loved working with Dow, whom they called a “really great director.”

They laughed and said they will always remember the edict, “Face the audience,” when they reminisce about the high school musicals.

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