London Community News
By Richard Ouzounian
Barbados - You’re more likely to find hurricanes than tornadoes in this part of the world, but the 20 young women competing for the role of Dorothy in the upcoming Toronto production of The Wizard of Oz were prepared for stormy weather.
It was all part of Over the Rainbow, the reality TV series that premieres on CBC Sunday at 8 p.m. It will eventually allow Canadians to choose who plays Dorothy in the Mirvish production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber mounting of the show, which starts performances in Toronto in December.
In the meantime, these 20 women, chosen from the dozens picked in cross-country auditions in June, were in Barbados to be winnowed down to 10 finalists, a difficult process for the hopefuls involved.
If it all sounds familiar, it’s because a similar procedure helped Elicia MacKenzie land the role of Maria in The Sound of Music in 2008 through the CBC TV show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
On that occasion, the aspiring young women went to Salzburg, which made sense for that musical.
But why Barbados for The Wizard of Oz? Wouldn’t Kansas have been more appropriate?
Ah, but Sir Andrew doesn’t have a home in Kansas and he does in Barbados.
In fact, his estate this evening was where the 20 candidates were being cut.
“This is the eighth program of this type I’ve done over the years,” Lloyd Webber said the following afternoon, unwinding over a glass of white wine in a local hotel, “and they’re all different and yet somehow they’re the same. The secret is in trying to get to the essence of just what this particular role needs from the person you cast in it.”
In this case, Judy Garland’s portrayal in the 1939 MGM movie casts a very long shadow, as does the memory of all the thousands of people who have sung “Over the Rainbow” through the decades, but Lloyd Webber knows what he’s looking for.
“This is about a girl who wants to break loose from her home environment and, while she has to be feisty, she also has to be adorable.”
At first, Lloyd Webber and his choreographer, Arlene Phillips, were horrified at how little individuality they found during the initial “Dorothy Farm” sessions held in Ontario.
“All these girls came out to perform for us and they were all smiling stereotypes,” said Phillips.
“But I spent a half-hour with each of them,” added Lloyd Webber, and their real personalities began to emerge.
“Some of them had been coached by their singing teachers and taught how to produce the money notes, but we needed much more than that,” he said.
Phillips nodded in agreement. “Once you talk them through the text, it’s different. Then you start to hear the yearning inside them. That’s the important thing.”
Lloyd Webber and Phillips looked at the 20 candidates and decided which 10 would return to Canada the following day.
They were off on a farewell scuba outing the following morning when I got to meet the final potential Dorothys.
CASSANDRA HODGINS, 17, London, Ont.
“I’m really quirky, much more so than Dorothy. I’ve been doing theatre since I was 4. The kind of kid who was always putting on a show for her family. I’ve always had big dreams, the kind that Dorothy has. She dreamed of being in a different place, I dreamed of being a different person, a big performer. Dorothy has every quality I would ever want in a person. She’s very courageous, she’s very determined and yet she has the time to take her of her friends and make sure that they get what they need, too. I admire her so much for that. I wish I could be the same.”
MICHELLE BOUEY, 21, Charlottetown, P.E.I.
“I think I have a very fun personality but I’m strong at the same time. I’m not afraid to stand up for myself. And the people I care about will always come first for me. That’s’ the way I think I’m the most like Dorothy. When I left for Sheridan, I was so excited to leave. I thought I couldn’t live with my parents forever, but I missed them so much. I learned how much I had taken for granted. But I soon found friends at school. I have a dozen tin men, lions and scarecrows, all of whom are out there rooting for me and wanting me to make it. That helps me feel strong.”
AJ (AMANDA JEANETTE) BRIDEL, 18, Kitchener, Ont.
“The more I get into this, this feels really right for me. I relate to Dorothy’s story. It doesn’t have to be a farm. It has to be a home that you don’t know how much you love until it’s gone. When my parents split up, it was heartbreaking for me. I have always been a family-oriented person. I want to be someone who helps redefine what musical theatre is. It’s turned into a bit of a campy cliché. It’s not. It’s got real moments in it and those are the ones that count. I want to be a part of changing it.”
COLLEEN FURLAN, 19, Winnipeg, Man.
“It all started out for me when my mom would take me to her highland dance rehearsals because she didn’t want to get a babysitter. I also used to listen to music a lot with my dad in the car, stuff like Juice Newton, Jim Croce. Then my parents got divorced and I started singing a lot more. I always thought Dorothy was an iconic role, something I’d never get to play, but then I realized it was exactly the break I was looking for. Now I’m here in Barbados on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s estate, learning very quickly about all the protocols of show business. Learning to be a young professional.”
JULIA GARTHA, 17, Unionville, Ont.
“My mom found about this first and thought it would be a really good opportunity for me. I honestly didn’t think I was good enough, but I sort of thought, why not? And so I went for it. I’m a pretty good singer, I like to act and I’m an OK dancer. I’m a poster girl for ‘support the arts’! I keep getting surprised here every day. Honestly, it’s such an amazing experience. I can’t imagine how much I’m going to learn. I’m going to be working with the best of the best and sometimes I just kind of look around and wonder what I’m doing here!”
JENNIFER KRISTINE GILLIS, 16, Coquitlam, B.C.
“This truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I feel both grateful and blessed. Of course, it’s going to be tough and there are going to be times you wish you hadn’t done it, but the strongest can overcome all of those times. Home is everything to me. I have a twin sister and this is the first time I’ve ever left her. Yes, I want freedom, but family are the people who are always going to be there for you at the end. I’ve been working in musical theatre since I was 3. It’s been my entire life. It makes me want this role so very much. I feel I have the most important qualities: fire and passion.”
STEPHANIE LA ROCHELLE, 17, Ottawa, Ont.
“I’ve always loved The Wizard of Oz. It was one of my fave musicals even as a kid. I’d hide by the TV cabinet, getting butterflies when the Wicked Witch would appear. And I’d just sing around the house all the time. We had a career day at school. I went to an office and knew that’s where I’d never be. Dorothy is from a small town; so am I. She’s out there chasing her dreams; I’m doing the same thing. She’s got her scarecrow, tin man and lion; I’ve got all my guy pals cheering me on. She’s got the Wizard; I’ve got Sir Andrew. Holy cow, he’s so very kind and so interested, and couldn’t treat us any better.”
JESSIE MUNRO, 18, Toronto, Ont.
“I’m pretty strong-willed and I think I know what I want. To play Dorothy. I may be 18, but I look younger and I think I still project innocence, but I’m not naive. Before I went to (Etobicoke School for the Arts), I was at a school where people did a lot of drugs. You can know what’s going on and not have to be a part of it. I’m really close to my home, to my mom and dad and sister and Sam. He’s my Toto. A golden poodle, big and fluffy. I wanted to go to music school in the States one summer but couldn’t afford it so I put on a concert to raise the money. I think that’s the kind of thing Dorothy would have done.”
KELSEY VERZOTTI, 17, Calgary, Alba.
“I’m an only child. My parents, I’m their whole life. Leaving home like this and being alone and homesick, they keep texting me all the time. I know I’m innocent, kind of naive but, growing up in Calgary, I always wanted something more. My mom helped me with the song, telling me read out the words and mean them. I got really emotional in Dorothy Farm, fending for myself. At home, I always have to be with my friends and here I was alone. I need other people. I know I’m a people pleaser and if someone doesn’t like me, that does a lot to me. I know I’m going to have to get tougher and more secure if I’m going to succeed.”
DANIELLE WADE, 20, LaSalle, Ont.
“You know the craziest part of this whole experience? I didn’t even think I would audition. I didn’t know if I could be Dorothy. My voice isn’t at all like Judy Garland’s. But then I realized that we don’t reinvent Dorothy, we just bring her to our own time. The most appealing part of Dorothy is that she has those characteristic her friends are looking for: courage, brains, a huge heart. She teaches her friends and they teach her.”
- Torstar News Service