Dorothy Gale would be proud.
When the cast takes to the stage on Friday through Sunday and March 2 and 3 for Vincentian Academy’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” if she were watching, she would smile and smile, just as she did when Toto escaped the clutches of mean old Miss Gulch.
“Wizard” is a lively show. Director Ken Lutz, with decades of experience leading school bands and orchestras, chose this show after he saw the performance capabilities of students willing to participate.
“That way, I know exactly what talent is available,” he said.
After retiring from teaching music for 33 years in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, Lutz, of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, agreed to direct Vincentian’s musicals for the last two years and this year.
“I couldn’t resist,” he said.
For this trip into Oz, Lutz needed strong voices, agile dancers and a cast member who could make her body go limp and one who could gesture like a monkey. He got what he needed in Kristyna Finikiotis, as the Scarecrow, and Jenny Elkadi, as the Wicked Witch of the West’s commander of the flying monkeys, respectively.
Finikiotis, 17, of Gibsonia and a junior, used techniques from years of dance study to develop her character’s herky-jerky style of walking.
“The hardest part of the role is always staying loose and remembering to be the Scarecrow physically all the time,” she said.
Lots of stretches help.
She credits other cast members for practices that allow her to add new dimensions to her character.
Lutz helped her change her pattern of speech.
“It was hard to break the habits of proper English and Pittsburgh colloquialism,” Finikiotis said.
With her newfound voice, she’ll introduce the Scarecrow to the audience in “If I Only Had a Brain.”
Calling the movie one of her all-time favorites, she said she knows every line.
“It was fun to do the musical and put my own twist on a classic,” Finikiotis said.
Elkadi, 17, of Gibsonia, considers herself a daring person.
“When I was told I would be flying, I was beyond ecstatic and not really nervous in the slightest,” she said.
As Nikko, she serves at the pleasure of the Wicked Witch and is charged with leading the other monkeys to kidnap Dorothy and Toto.
In the air or on the ground, Elkadi likes making people laugh. To help her in this role, she visited the YouTube website to learn how monkeys behave.
Elkadi, a senior, is excited about the flights, where she’ll have a new perspective of the Yellow Brick Road from 30 to 40 feet above it.
“Acting stiff instead of loose is a new experience,” said Alex Kerr, a senior from Ross Township, who plays the Tin Man.
At 18 and already busy with extracurricular activities, he loves the stage work so much he has adjusted his after-school hours around the musical.
“It takes top priority for me,” he said.
And so he clinks and clanks, occasionally freezing up but never out of reach of an oil can.
“The hardest part is having to carry my ax with me the entire show,” he said.
His love of performance began when his mother enrolled him at Pittsburgh Musical Theater when he was in the eighth grade.
“It’s just unbelievably fun, but I almost can’t prevent myself from laughing during the Lion’s initial scene because she does it so well,” he said.
Enter the Cowardly Lion, as played by Erin Sarosi, 17, of Shaler Township.
“Learning how to use the character’s voice was definitely challenging for me,” she said.
“It took weeks of practice to get it where it is now.”
While she doesn’t see herself as a jokester, she punches up the lines much like actor Burt Lahr did in the movie, although she hasn’t watched the film since rehearsals started.
On stage, she focuses on saying the right lines and doing the right dance moves.
“I am so consumed in the scene around me that I usually don’t notice the audience,” she said.
But she hopes the people in the seats respond well to the comedy and the funny lines throughout the show.
“I am trying to make the lion my own character,” Sarosi, a senior, said.
“I absolutely love performing the song ‘King of the Forest.'”
From the darkness of the deep woods to the heights a broomstick can reach, Emma Sciullo, 16, of Ross Township, sends a cackle through space that can break glass.
“I had to practice it a little bit, getting it squeaky,” she said.
“But people say I laugh like that normally.”
She has tried to give the Wicked Witch a more comedic side.
“She’s crazy,” Sciullo, a junior, said.
“It took me awhile to get past my inhibitions of being crazy in front of people.”
She credits the cast’s support and constructive comments for growing her into her first lead role.
“We give each other the right confidence boosters at the right times, and it really keeps all of us focused and excited,” she said.
On Friday, when the spotlight shines on that little Kansas farm on the stage at the Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center in Ross, the clear voice of Concetta Coppola as Dorothy will welcome the audience to a place they’ll not soon forget. The invitation comes in the words of “Over the Rainbow,” the musical’s first song.
“It’s hard to explain, but there’s something organic and real in that scene,” Coppola, 17, of Ross Township, said, as Dorothy longs for “a place behind the sun, just a step beyond the rain,” as the prelude says.
“The song hits home for me.”
Coppola’s first challenge is making her character believable because Dorothy is so widely known. Her second challenge is working with Angel Bryant, a Bichon Frise.
“Angel has done well in the role of Toto,” said Lutz.
“Once we made it clear that she would not have her own dressing room with a star on the door, she quickly realized that there is no ‘I’ in Oz, and she was one of the first cast members to have all of her lines memorized.”
Off to see the Wizard?
What: Vincentian Academy’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. March 2 and 2 p.m. March 3.
Where: Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center, 3579 Masonic Way, Ross Township.
Admission: Tickets, which are $12 for adults and $8 for students, can be ordered at vamusical.org; by calling 412-364-1616, ext. 219; or by emailing VincentianTheatre@gmail.com. The Emerald City Café will be open before all performances. Dinner and lunch items, desserts, snacks and beverages will be sold.