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Oz: Keeping A Promise, Putting On A Show

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HBW-OZ-AllThere’s a fresh face roaming the halls of H.B. Whitehorne. No, it’s not a new faculty member. In fact, he’s in his fourth year at HB. Brian Michalowski, band and music teacher and play director extraordinary is sporting a new, clean-shaven look courtesy of a promise he made to the cast and crew of the Wizard of Oz. A few days prior to the show, which was performed in the school’s auditorium on March 22 and 23, he told the student actors and crew members he’d shave his beard if both shows were sold out.

By the end of the school day Friday–you guessed it–tickets to both the Friday night performance and the Saturday afternoon matinee were completely gone. True to his word, Mr. Michalowski dug out his razor and arrived at Saturday’s show with a lot less facial hair!

What does Mrs. Michalowski think of all this? “I like him better with a beard,” she admits. “But a promise is a promise and Mr. M means what he says.” Her husband agrees and says he misses his beard and is already working on growing a new one.

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HBW-OZ-MonkeyLights, Camera, Action
Without a doubt, Wizard of Oz is an extra challenging musical and Mr. Michalowski admits to being hesitant about taking it on at first. “Oz is just a huge undertaking with a lot of complicated scenes, costumes and props,” he says. “But when I considered all the talented students, helpful parents and a really supportive school that we have I decided Oz would be a wonderful show for us. And it really was!”

This year’s production had a huge turnout of student actors and crewmembers. Over 70 children participated—a record at HBW. Putting on a show of this magnitude is a lot of work. It takes time to make sets, create costumes, put together the program and organize tickets. Not to mention, staging the production and giving the actors enough time to learn their lines.

Auditions took place back in December and rehearsals started before the holiday break and continued right through the day of the show.

Seventh graders Grace Gault and Colin Vega were cast as Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion, and eighth graders Michael Nulty and Kelly Petrino played the Tin Man and loveable Scarecrow respectively. Fifth grader Sara Sexton, as Dorothy’s dog Toto, wore pigtails and a fluffy, black costume to round out the group of eager journeyers to Oz.

Other performers included Mia Corbett (an eighth grader) whose green make up and scary cackle made her a convincingly evil Wicked Witch. Head monkey Nikko–played enthusiastically by seventh grader David Schuldiner who could be seen jumping and flapping his monkey wings all over the auditorium–was never far from her side.

Katie Fernandez, also in eighth grade, was a lovely and gentle Glinda who looked the part wearing a pink gown, long red wig and sparkly crown.

HBW-OZ-Dorothy-TotoRounding out the cast was an assortment of farm hands, brightly clad Munchkins, citizens of Oz and monkeys. Joe Anello, as the Wizard was appropriately aged when he stepped on stage wearing a headpiece that made him look bald.

Behind the scenes, the middle school crew operated all the technical aspects of the show (except for the sound). From curtain pulling to light operation and handling all of the scene changes. The tornado scene was especially fun for the student crew, who simulated the storm dramatically with a few lighting tricks. “It’s a lot of responsibility for middle school kids,” says Mr. M, who points out the middle school show is a wonderful learning experience for everyone involved.

Brett Fischer, Kitty Pagano’s dad, painted the colorful backdrops of the Emerald City and Dorothy’s farm and constructed many of the sets. (Kitty was an apple tree and a jitterbug dancer in Oz.) Several students pitched in on weekend afternoons helping to get the sets painted.

On the day of the show, audience members were treated to a mini stroll on a piece of the yellow brick road that was imported all the way from Massachusetts. (A local theatre in Gloucester generously loaned us the yellow brick road that was placed in the school’s entryway.)

Two other adults played important off-stage roles: Barbara Piercy (a longtime friend of Mr. M) lent her talents at the piano as music director, and volunteer Mary Jo Cuddihy worked to outfit most of the cast.

Following Saturday’s show, the students enjoyed a cast party in the school cafeteria that featured a laser light show, video collage, piñata, hula-hoop contest with prizes, pizza and yellow brick road-themed cupcakes. Be on the lookout for the official show poster—created by former HBW student Emily Gagliostro who is currently a junior at Verona High School—coming to the auditorium soon.

HBW-OZ-MichalowskiMr. M plans to take a little time off to get the band room and prop closet back in order before thinking about next year’s production but encourages students to get in on the act. “The musical is a great activity for any student–whether or not they can sing, dance or act! Being part of a show builds self confidence and becomes like a second family for many of the kids who participate,” he says and he should know. A former HBW student himself, Mr. Michalowski has been on stage in many school productions. Some of his favorites? “My last show at HB was Guys and Dolls. I played the role of Sky Masterson which was tons of fun. At Verona High I was in Jekyll and Hyde and did Fiddler on the Roof in summer music.”

Putting on a school show requires countless hours of hard work, dedication and commitment but the enormous effort is well worth it, Mr. M says. “In the end, there’s just such a huge payoff.”

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