For this show, which opens Friday, May 4, there was no such thing as doing it halfway. It’s all or nothing.
The cast of 72 students — running the gamut from munchkins and flying monkeys to the iconic roles of Dorothy and the Wicked Witch — includes nearly one-quarter of the school’s entire student body (not to mention a pair of real life Totos), but even then Burrage was forced to turn kids away.
“It was heart-breaking,” she said. “We had nearly 100 kids try out for the roles of munchkins, but there just wasn’t room for everyone.”
No matter the logistics of undertaking such a show in terms of cast size, set design, costumes and other needs too numerous to count, for Burrage, this seemed like a show that was simply meant to be.
“It’s a God thing,” she said. “It just seems like it’s all come together to make this happen as one door after another has opened to make this all possible.”
First Burrage was able to secure the rights to the show, “which is never easy,” she said. Then came the opportunity to have “The Wizard of Oz” at the Anniston Performing Arts Center and finally the Characters Theater in Gadsden agreed to lend its costumes for the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow for Donoho’s production.
“Little by little, it’s all worked out,” Burrage said. “All I can say is that we’re standing in the middle of a miracle.”
But miracles don’t come easy and these students have had to work.
“We don’t have a crew,” Burrage said, “so we’re having to do it all ourselves and that’s a good thing. It helps build character and team work.”
For Burrage, “The Wizard of Oz” is more than a legendary movie, it was a turning point in her own life. Burrage, an Anniston native, was a 9-year-old living in Florence when she heard about a local theater holding auditions for “The Wizard of Oz” and she decided to try out for the role of a munchkin. More than 300 kids showed up for the audition with accompanists, resumes and some even had headshots. Burrage’s mom thought about talking her daughter out of trying out.
“I was this chunky, nerdy little kid who just wanted to be on stage,” Burrage said.
As part of her audition, she sang “If I Only Had a Brain” a capella. It was a “nightmare.” Yet, the director, Robert Allen Holder, saw something in her and she landed the role of Dorothy.
“We had a two-week run with over 800 in attendance at each show,” she said. “Pretty cool for a 9-year-old kid with bad bangs and awful self-confidence.”
Burrage went on to perform in many other plays. She attended the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, graduated from JSU with a bachelor’s of arts degree in theater, went on to work for various regional theater companies and toured the U.S., Canada, Taiwan and Japan, teaching and acting in plays with kids. Today, she is the fine arts coordinator and a teacher at Donoho.
“By doing that play, I found my niche and it transformed my life,” she said. “And who knows, the same thing might happen for one of these kids. With a show like this — when they hear that first standing ovation — it’ll rock their world.”
‘An awesome experience’
It would appear 16-year-old Alli Brascho has found her niche by playing Dorothy and something of a role model as well.
“I can really relate to Dorothy,” Alli said. “We’re similar in personality — both really positive — but in our lives, too. Dorothy doesn’t want to stay in Kansas or on a farm, she wants to live and have experiences. That’s what I want — to go to New York and travel the world.
“We’re really a lot alike.”
Alli grew up watching “The Wizard of Oz,” though she admits to being “terrified” of the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys. She’s also seen the touring version of “Wicked” in Birmingham, so the role of Dorothy was something of a dream come true.
“It’s just been an amazing opportunity,” she said. “This is what I want to do with my life … to be on stage and this has been an awesome experience.”
Alli was a natural for the role of Dorothy, Burrage added.
“When she opens her mouth, it’ll give you chills,” she said. “She’s a phenomenal talent.”
Another gifted actress is Meghana Giri, who’s playing the Wicked Witch, though anyone who knew the seventh-grader before being slathered with green makeup might have a hard time imagining her as the legendary villain.
“She’s absolutely the sweetest, most mild-mannered little girl,” Burrage said. “But during auditions when she came on stage with this evil personality, I saw it and thought, ‘Perfect.’ She blew it out of the water.”
Burrage is trying to keep the play mostly in line with the movie version. For example, the opening scenes will use lots of blacks and grays in settings and costumes before switching to vibrant colors for Dorothy’s arrival in Munchkinland. Burrage is also including the “Jitterbug” scene that was left out of the original. But that doesn’t mean she wants her students going home and studying the movie.
“We’re doing some different things with the characters,” she said. “I’ve told all the kids not to watch the movie. I don’t care how they talked or how they danced. I want them to make the roles their own.”
Donoho’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” will benefit more than just those on stage and in the audience. One-tenth of the proceeds from the performances will sponsor students at the Ray of Hope School in Namuwongo, which are the slums of Kampala, Uganda.
“We wanted to do something a little more this time,” Burrage said. “For $300, we can send a child to school, get them food, shelter. It can really change their lives, and that’s an amazing power.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org
A tenth of the proceeds from Donoho’s performances will sponsor students at the Ray of Hope School in Namuwongo, the slums of Kampala, Uganda. The cost of sponsoring one student is $300 and provides uniforms, meals and a year’s education through Ten Eighteen Inc. There are various items made by a Ugandan ladies group, Nawezakana, that will be available for purchase in the lobby and 100 of the sales will go to the children. For more information, visit 10eighteen.org.
“The Wizard of Oz”
Where: Anniston Center for Performing Arts, 1301 Woodstock Ave., Anniston
When: Friday, May 4, and Saturday, May 5, 7 p.m.
Cost: $5 per ticket