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Off to see Wizard at Harford's Phoenix Festival Theater

Elise Starkey plays Dorothy and Stephanie Mahoney plays Glinda in  Phoenix Festival Theater production of "The Wizard of Oz" in Harford Community College's Chesapeake Theater on June 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 7 p.m. and June 7 & 14 at 2 p.m.
Elise Starkey plays Dorothy and Stephanie Mahoney plays Glinda in  Phoenix Festival Theater production of "The Wizard of Oz" in Harford Community College's Chesapeake Theater on June 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 7 p.m. and June 7 & 14 at 2 p.m. (Submitted photo, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

"The Wizard of Oz" opens at Phoenix Festival Theater June 5 and runs for two weekends. The lively family favorite is full of songs like "We're Off To See the Wizard," "Yellow Brick Road," "King of the Forest," and, of course, the signature number, "Over the Rainbow."

Director/choreographer Kim Brueggemann, who teaches tap, has created a nifty tap dance sequence for the "Jitterbug" number. She has also cast little ones as young as 4 years old to portray the Munchkins. The show is special for her because "Wizard" was the first big musical she directed 15 years ago for John Carroll School.

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"The Wizard of Oz" runs at the Chesapeake Center at Harford Community College, 401 Thomas Run Road, Bel Air from June 5 to 14. Showtimes are June 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 7 p.m. and June 7, 13 and 14 at 2 p.m. Reserved seating is $10 to $20. Call 443-412-2211 or visit tickets.harford.edu.

Elise Starkey plays Dorothy Gale, a role she first performed as a high school freshman for Tidewater Teens. About to enter her senior year in college, she hasn't changed her mind about the character of Dorothy.

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"She's very innocent and sweet. She realizes how much her family is to her," Starkey said. "It really hits home with me."

Elise's mother, Laurie Starkey, played Dorothy herself when she was in high school. In this production, Laurie Starkey plays Almira Gulch as well as Dorothy's nemesis in Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West, who seeks revenge for the death of her sister, who was flattened by Dorothy's tornado-borne house.

"It's nice to run lines in the car together," Starkey said, adding, "I'm thankful I don't have to sing and do dance numbers. I just have to laugh and be evil. Most Munchkins shudder away from me."

Indeed, at rehearsal, her cackle was very evil.

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Ranch hand Hunk, and Scarecrow, are played by veteran actor/dancer Gary Dieter, who joins Dorothy on her search for the Wizard. His hope is to get a brain.

Ranch hand Hickory, and Tin Man, played by Jonathan Gibbons (Harold Hill in PFT's "The Music Man"), seeks a heart.

"All the characters already have what they are seeking," he said. "They just need to discover it for themselves. The Tin Man thinks he needs a heart, but he's very emotional already."

Dickie Mahoney, who played Jean Valjean in the recent production of "Les Miserables" at Tidewater Players, is ranch hand Zeke and the Cowardly Lion. Having recently lost more than 100 pounds, he may need to use stuffing to fill out his lion costume.

"The Cowardly Lion is afraid of anything and everything," Mahoney said. "I try to pay tribute to Bert Lahr [who played the role in the movie version] because that's what people want to hear. I add a little spin of my own."

Stephanie Mahoney plays Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Armed with a magic wand, she protects the Munchkins and helps Dorothy.

Chris Barsam plays the mysterious, great and wonderful Wizard of Oz as well as his alter-ego, the Kansas con-artist, Professor Marvel.

"I never noticed before how similar the two are," he said. "Both are full of baloney. One character [Wizard] just has more authority than the other."

Part of the charm of recent Phoenix Festival shows is the presence of whole families in the cast. Al and Cathy Herlinger (Uncle Henry and Aunt Em) share the stage with their daughters, Natasha, 11, and Isabelle, 14. The day after "Wizard" closes, Al Herlinger said he is holding auditions for PFT's September production of "Mame," which he will direct.

The Bordners of Bel Air include Ralph and Sariela Bordner and their daughter, Isabela, 15, in the ensemble, and Sofia, 10, and Gabriel, 6, as Munchkins.

"It will be interesting to see what [a regular] bedtime looks like, Sariela Bordner said.

Young Koncurats include Munchkins Abby, 14, Daniel, 8, Julia, 13, and Kelly, 11. Rachel, 16, is in the ensemble. April and Nelson Frits (ensemble) are joined by daughters Lannon, 12, and Gracelyn, 11.

By far, the largest family group is the Washburns of Abingdon. Parents Brian and Catherine are in the ensemble with Christian, 17, Jonah, 15, and Indy, 14. Beckah, 11, Briella, 7, and Josiah, 4, the youngest cast member, are Munchkins.

"These are memories we will have forever," said Catherine, who sometimes dresses the youngest in pajamas for rehearsals to make for a quicker bedtime.

Toto will be played by a live Yorkie. Also live is the orchestra – Stephanie Cvach on piano; Angie Jones, keyboards; Lindsey Zimmerman, violin; Rachel Butera, flute; Richard Hauf, clarinet/alto saxophone; Katie Laakso, flute/tenor saxophone; Mark Lashof and Jillian Laakso, trumpet; Liz Antwarg, trombone; and Isiah keith, percussion.

Mikey Shock is the mayor of Munchkin City and an Ozian. Donna Zavacky plays the barrister and an Ozian. The versatile Brady Fritz plays the coroner, Nikko, a Jitterbug, a Crow and an Ozian. Dominic LaFrancesca plays the Emerald City guard and a Winkie.

Munchkins include Anna and James Tackett, Ellie Ford, Emily Atha, Gracie Tasel, Lexie Newberry, Liam Gallihue, Riley Coakley, Sammi Flickinger, Scott Jones and Sophia MacKinnon. Anna McClelland, Brindyn Cook, Delaney Flickinger, Erin Bourn, Gemma Menges, Kylie Magness, Lindsay Rosser, Madeline Saldana, Mike Schafer, Stephanie Atha, Taylor Gallihue and Victoria Stanley are in the ensemble.

The production team is made up of company manager/producer Larry Hensley; musical director Richard Hauf; technical director Jeff Kanyuck; stage manager Thomas Gardner; set and lighting designer Chuck Bowden; costume designers Susan Nicolaides, Gay Lynn Price, Stella DiPeso and Becky Flickinger; props managers Heather Gasswint and Jessica Brockmeyer; sound designer/operator Rachel Hawkins; and scenic artist Kerri MacKinnon.

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