Surely almost every American old enough to go to the theater is familiar with the story of "The Wizard of Oz," but The Olympia School District Players' production still has something to offer that many audience members won't have seen live before:
People will be flying.
The Wicked Witch of the West and her entourage won’t propel themselves through the air in the show, but they will be doing stage flight, with the help of harnesses, ropes and pulleys.
“Foy comes in from Las Vegas and installs their system in our space,” said Kathy Dorgan, who’s directing the Olympia School District Education Foundation’s annual musical fundraiser with choreographer Colleen Powers. “That is the company that invented the flight system, and it was first invented for ‘Peter Pan.’ ”
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The musical, opening Thursday, draws its talent from the entire district — from teachers and staff members and their families.
The musical is virtually identical to the beloved Judy Garland movie, Dorgan said — in part because the stage musical is based on the film.
“The play was written in the ’80s,” she said. “Most of the time we think of shows like ‘Oklahoma,’ where the movie was based on the play, but in this case this play was written after the movie.
“Most of the lines are the same. And Dorothy’s dress and all that stuff is just iconic. It’s exactly what we’re used to.”
Of course, the special effects are a little different, though. The primary effect in this production is the flying.
The rigging and the technical expert will arrive Monday, leaving seven actors only a few days to learn to soar with grace.
“The flight harness fits almost like a bathing suit,” Dorgan said. “It goes between your legs and up your back. It’s made of leather. When it pulls up, it’s pretty severe. You have to be ready for it and then you have to get the point where you look really natural.”
And that takes some time, said Julie Dahlen, who plays Dorothy. The 17-year-old Olympia High School senior, whose mother works for the district, has flown before, when she played Peter Pan in a Creative Theatre Experience production, also directed by Dorgan.
“When you first get lifted up, it’s pretty uncomfortable,” Dahlen said. “You tip forward a bit. You have to work on keeping your upper body up, and you have to use your legs to stop yourself from spinning around.”
As Dorothy, she’ll fly when she’s captured by the flying monkeys — which were the most coveted roles in the show.
“On the audition sheets for this show, three out of five people put that they wanted to be monkeys,” said Dorgan, who teaches theater and film at Olympia High School. “People really like the idea of getting to fly.”
The production is pretty complicated even on the ground, she said. “It’s a big show, but Colleen and I have both wanted to do it for a long time. It seemed like we both had the energy for it and the heart for it this year.”
The cast includes more than 80 actors, including one non-human. Toto will be played by Cricket, a Yorkie owned by Olympia High School costumer Ingrid Goodwin.
“She is very well-behaved,” Dahlen said. “I guess anything could happen, but she’s been great.”
With the royalties for the show and the high cost of air travel, cast members were all asked to provide their own costumes this year. (In the past, major characters have typically had their costumes provided.)
Quite a few costumes have been borrowed from Capital Playhouse — where Dahlen got her blue-and-white checked dress — and Tacoma Musical Playhouse. But those with smaller parts are exercising their creativity, Dorgan said.
“We’ve seen some pretty hilarious munchkin hats and things like that,” she said.