Off to see the wizard at Watchung School
The Wizard of Oz
Young Performers Edition
Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Friday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2 p.m.
Directed by Patrick Wilson and Dagmara Dominczyk
Musical Direction by Henry Boote
Watchung School, 14 Garden St.
By GWEN OREL
Onstage, the director dances, jumps, and sings.
“Go to your places,” he says.
The kids bounce to “The Jitterbug” — a song from “The Wizard of Oz” that was cut from the 1939 movie, but is present in the Young Performers stage version.
Thirty actors and eight crew members in fourth and fifth grade are putting up the show at Watchung School, tomorrow, Jan. 25, and Saturday, Jan. 26.
Patrick Wilson choreographs, while across the hall, co-director Dagmara Dominczyk (who is also Wilson’s wife) pulls costumes out of zip-lock bags and tries them on some of the 33 kids in the Watchung School production.
It’s controlled chaos.
Everyone seems to be having a ball.
To the point where it’s hard to hear.
This is the third year Wilson and Dominczyk have directed a show at Watchung School together. They are both famous: among Wilson’s credits are “Watchmen” and “Aquaman” (2018). Dominczyk, author of “The Lullaby of Polish Girls” (2013), has also performed in theater, film and television, and is about to shoot HBO’s “Succession.”
Their shooting schedules determined when they would direct the show.
READ: PLAYING AN INSTRUMENT IS TEAMWORK AT GLENFIELD MIDDLE SCHOOL
READ: CULTURE IN BRIEF; WATCHUNG MUSICAL, BUZZ ALDRIN DANCE
“We met in theater school, at Carnegie Mellon,” Wilson said. “Theater has been in our blood, and something that we have a passion for, and we also have a passion for teaching. We wanted to do our part.” Both of their children have gone through Watchung School, he said.
Both have also taught master classes at CMU. Their friend John Frenzer, also a school dad,
had been directing and when he stopped, they took over.
“The Wizard of Oz” is a much bigger show than “We Are Monsters” and “Giants in the Sky,” the two shows they had directed before.
“They need this,” Dominczyk says. “They need music, they need dance, they need theater, they need human connection. More and more these days, because more and more they are on their screens and devices. So there’s a certain thrill that comes to doing something live.”
This year, the play is not part of After School Enrichment, so there is no fee to participate. The PTA provided some of the budget for the show; Dominczyk augmented that by buying, sewing, and making costumes.
A sign-up sheet had a cut-off, first-come, first-served, for numbers. And yes, there are munchkins and flying monkeys, she says enthusiastically.
Wilson points out that for auditions for the larger parts, music teacher Henry Boote knew the kids voices, so could tell them if someone, for example, auditioned softly but was just nervous, and could really sing louder. Boote had always wanted to present "Wizard," Wilson said. The children will not be miked.
Montclair has already had a sneak preview, at a Board of Education meeting last week, when the kids sang “Munchkin Land” and “Over the Rainbow.” “They sounded great!” Wilson says.
The cast of “The Wizard of Oz” are excited and a little nervous about their performances
Everyone knows the film, and has seen it “a billion times,” according to Malakai Buckner, the Cowardly Lion.
While choreography can be hard to remember, “you get to have costumes, and cool things,” Buckner says. “And you get to have two very good actors as your directors.”
He’s particularly excited that while his costume as Zeke (the farmhand in Kansas who seems just like the Scarecrow in Oz) isn’t great, his lion costume fits perfectly. To get in to character, he watched his favorite movie, “The Lion King,” over and over again. “One and two,” he emphasizes.
Costume quick-changes are a challenge for everyone: the
Dorothys have to get their ruby slippers on as quick as magic. Noa Freund and Cheta Okaro alternate as Dorothy
“It’s fun to be in this play because you get to be with people who like to do the same things you do. And everybody is so nice to you, and you get to be yourself onstage,” Freund says.
Okaro agrees: “I like acting with my grade because I get to make more friends.”
In addition to quick-changes, memorizing lines and entrances as well as dance steps are challenging, in part because time was short: "Wizard" rehearsed after school on Fridays, so though it’s been a few months, rehearsal has not had many hours. And the show lost a few Fridays to Thanksgiving and
The student crew also had to learn where the props and everything had to go, crew member Adrian Onorati said.
Sophie Alway, who plays Toto (in Kansas, Toto is a stuffed animal; but in Oz she sings and dances) has to remember when to bark.
Scarecrow Kasjan Wilson, the son of the directors (pronounced Kassie, “because it’s Polish,” he explains) finds remembering entrances challenging, but said that he feels accomplished when he gets it right.
And Kass Wilson likes The Scarecrow, because “Sometimes I can be without a brain.” But, he points out, “The Scarecrow
comes up with all the great ideas in the movie.” He wants to be an actor when he grows up.
“The apple didn’t fall far,” observes Dominczyk, who has come over to try puppy ears on Alway.
The dog ears are cute. “Awww,” say all the kids.
WHEN IT CLICKS
It’s a tremendous amount of work, for the kids, for the two busy directors who are juggling their own careers, for the parents who build sets, make props and help out.
For Wilson, it’s worth it “when it clicks. It’s different for each kid. Whether it’s my Tin Man stepping on the right beat, and he’s thinking ‘oh great,’ and I see the light go on in his eyes… for me, that’s the reason that we do it. Those brief little moments of watching it click.”
He has done a lot of theater, but he himself never performed in “The Wizard of Oz.”
But Dominczyk did.
She had the movie on a cassette when she was a child, and listened to it over and over again. One day she and her sisters dressed up and lip-synched the entire movie and filmed themselves. “We spent the whole Saturday morning filming ourselves lip-synching the whole thing. I still have that VHS tape,” she said. “It reminds me of my beginning love, an awakening saying, ‘I want to do this kind of stuff.’ It’s very tied to when I realized I first wanted to act. So it’s really special to be doing it now.”
And for her, watching a child discover that there’s a little performer, or a little crewhand, and find out “something surprising about themselves, onstage… it gives me chills.”