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8:49 PM Wed, Nov. 14th

Local 'Wizard of Oz' play lives up to classic film

Brett Soldwedel/The Daily Courier<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Lexi Shepherd, 14, plays Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and flies around the stage with Liz Aranda, 11, during dress rehearsal on Tuesday. <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

Brett Soldwedel/The Daily Courier<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Lexi Shepherd, 14, plays Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and flies around the stage with Liz Aranda, 11, during dress rehearsal on Tuesday. <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

PRESCOTT - "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" Not to mention flying monkeys and witches, a tornado, a house dropping from the sky, a larger-than-life wizard, and a pair of magical ruby slippers.

Young Star Musical Theater opens "The Wizard of Oz" 7 p.m. tonight at the Yavapai College Performance Hall on the Prescott campus. Young Star has won several national awards and only produces plays with children ages 18 and younger.

"I like the Munchkins and I love the clothes," said 4-year-old Bella Shayne Morgan, one of the youngest actors in the 60-person cast. Bella and the other Munchkins are guaranteed to steal the audiences' hearts - and, if they don't, Glinda will.

"Glinda the Good Witch of the North (played by Kelly Johnson and Chelsea Torres) floats down in a pink bubble," said Kim Auer, known as "The Flying Wizard" for her aerobatic expertise. "(Glinda) has the scariest flying part, sitting on this little seat."

Stu Cox, manager of flying directors for ZFX Flying Effects, traveled from Kentucky with rigging ropes, wires and pulleys to build the special effects set.

While the actors are zooming around the stage, their parents are in the wings pulling the ropes to make them fly.

"I train the lift operators and travel operators first, and then we start on the choreography," Cox said. "The parents have to know how to clip and unclip the kids, and some of the scenes fly. The rope operators get a full-body workout."

After Cox teaches the children how to fly and the parents how to handle the ropes, Auer, a flight nurse by profession, becomes the stage flight director. She has worked on several flying plays, and is adamant about the children's safety.

"I've never had to replace a kid because they were afraid to fly," Auer said. "But I've replaced some parents because they wouldn't follow the safety rules."

Director Shmaine Posey, who is probably directing her last performance for the near future, has pulled together a cast, stage sets and backdrops that rival the original 1939 film classic starring the late Judy Garland.

Part den mother and part drill sergeant, Posey is able to take children and teenagers who may or may not have any stage experience and motivate and cajole them into Broadway-like performances.

"The biggest thing is that it builds confidence and camaraderie in the kids," Posey said. "They make new friends and become like a big family."

Unlike most stage performances of "Oz," Posey opens the play in black and white and brings in color in the same sequence as the movie.

"We use black and white and gray costumes and, with the lighting, we get a black and white effect," Posey said.

And some of the costumes and backdrops are so bright and colorful that they produce a Technicolor-like effect.

Casting and rehearsals for the $30,000 production started this past August. The two-hour play includes two acts and more than 30 scenes.

L. Frank Baum wrote "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" in 1899, and published it in 1900. The book became an overnight success, and Baum went on to write 14 sequels. His final book, "Glinda of Oz," was published in 1920, one year after his death.

"It's just a great movie - a classic," said Ben Auer, 15, who plays the Scarecrow. "I never expected to be playing in it." Auer likes the Scarecrow's "loosey-goosey" role.

The children sing and dance their way through all the favorite "Oz" songs. However, Posey has a few surprises for the audience, including a surreal Wizard.

Performances start at 7 p.m. tonight and Friday, and at 11 a.m. and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets cost $18 at the box office, and $15 from a cast member or by calling 899-0520, or 308-1292. For more information about Young Star, visit www.ysmt.org.