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June 11, 2002

From what I hear, things are going reasonably well with the forthcoming production of “The Wizard of Oz” by our own Stagecoach Community Theatre and the Perry school drama department. The play sounded like an ambitious undertaking when it was first announced, and I guess it really is just that. However, the venerable old musical was completely cast during the audition period and rehearsals are now well underway for a mid-summer presentation. I’ve been told that some great local talent will be showcased. Laura and I have two granddaughters, Amy and Jill, who will be making their debuts as Munchkins, and we hope they will be as smitten by the theater as we are.

Matter of fact, we have just returned from a few days in New York on a theater tour with a group organized by the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, where the school originally was known as Oklahoma College for Women. Now it’s USAO, not OCW, and it’s co-ed. When we joined those folks for a similar New York theater tour last year, we had visions of looking like chaperons and standing out among a bunch of extremely cool undergraduates. Instead, folks like us made up most of the group, along with a handful of drama students and we got along with them just fine.

We saw a lot of good Broadway theater in only a few days and they were all great. This was the week preceding the Tony awards and that made those selections all the more interesting to us. We were returning home the night of the awards show so we didn’t see any of it on TV, but we read about it in the newspaper the next day. Many of the performers we saw were singled out for honors. We thought each one of the principals and technicians that we saw deserved the little statuettes.

New York is an expensive city and nothing exemplifies that more than Broadway theaters. Even with the occasional discounts available to those who seek them, ticket prices are scandalously high. But if you love the theater, you are well compensated by the quality of the shows that are having successful runs.

One of the musicals we saw was “Into the Woods,” a revival with new touches added. It was a delightful mixture of the familiar fairy tales about Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, plus one you’ve probably not heard before, with a lot of new and entertaining twists tossed in. It was witty, exciting, well-staged and wholesome – a rarity these days. Vanessa Williams, the young lady who won the Miss America title a few years ago but had to surrender it in a matter of weeks, was the biggest “name” in that show, and she, along with some other cast members, joined our group after the play for an informal question and answer session.

I thought it was interesting when one of the young people in the group asked Miss Williams what she would say to a young performer hoping to break into the business. After a moment of reflection, Miss Williams said something like this: “Learn how to do everything. Don’t just concentrate on being an actor. Take dancing lessons, piano lessons, singing lessons and learn all you can about making costumes and building or painting sets. You never know when one of those skills will help you land a job.” That was it, in essence, and I thought it sounded pretty good. Hearing that from someone who is still making a name for herself in the theater is probably the most practical advice a young person could hope for.

Next year the USAO people will be putting together a theater tour to London in addition to the New York tour. Eventually we will have to decide which one best suits us, but you can be sure we’ll be on one or the other. Meantime, get the family together and plan to see Perry’s “Wizard of Oz” on stage at the Perry high school auditorium this summer. You’ll see a lot of talent and youthful energy working hard to please you.