WEST NEWBURY — Strap on those ruby slippers and get set for a nostalgic trip over the rainbow this weekend when the Pentucket High School Theatre Department presents its version of L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz."
With its themes on the power of friendship, self-confidence and compassion, "Oz" offers a fitting message for high school students poised to embark on their own journey down the Yellow Brick Road. Director Rachel McGowan and musical director Michael Smith keep the classic tale fresh by infusing a couple of Pentucket firsts into their production.
When the curtains rises on opening night Thursday, more than 30 "Munchkins" and "Poppies" recruited from the district's elementary schools will join the older actors on stage. And a real furry pooch — a poodle- terrier mix known as Ellie — will play the role of the lovable yet feisty Toto.
Depicting such well-known characters was a unique test for Dorothy, played by Olivia Dunn, and her band of unlikely comrades, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion, played by Liam Leonard-Solis, Jon Acorn and Anne Marie Studzinski, respectively.
"The challenge is balancing what people are expecting from the movie with my own personal interpretation of the character," said Studzinski, who plans to study screenwriting in college next year. "For me the greatest lesson from this show is that I am the only one who can decide who I am. The characters expect the wizard to be able to make them great, but ultimately the answer is — and has always been — within themselves."
Mayor of Munchkinland, Julia Malonson, admits she was skeptical about having younger actors in the show. "It's never been done before, and it could have been a complete disaster. But the kids are more dedicated than I could have imagined. They really make the Munchkinland scene, with their adorable flower hats and smiling faces." A senior, Malonson plans to study anthropology in college.