The Munchkins are many things in "The Wizard of Oz" -- adorablecitizens, mayors, coroners, Lollipop Guild and efficient GPSsystems for following brick roads.
What they are not are the stars of the show, an honor given to anearnest girl from Kansas, a cowardly lion, a tin man and scarecrowand even a green witch.
But for the entire week of performances of The King's Academy'smiddle-school production of the musical, it's the Munchkins whowill be squarely on the minds of the cast and audience, even in ashort 20 minutes of stage time. And it's not just that they make upmore than half of the approximately 200 actors.
It's because of the Munchkin who isn't there.
Alexandra Brooks would have made her stage debut as a frillypink- clad member of the Lullaby League.
Instead, the production will be dedicated to the 10-year-old. A fewweeks after beginning rehearsals, Alex was found dead, along withher mother, Pamela, in their West Palm Beach home. Police haveruled the deaths a murder-suicide.
"She was one of my good friends. I would tell her 'We want to beable to do this for you,'~HOA~128~128~" said 10-year-old MargotMcFadden, close friend and fellow cast member.
While the entire local community reeled from the news, thecommunity at King's Academy was hit particularly hard. TheChristian private school has about 1,600 students in Pre-K to 12thgrade, meaning that many of them spend much of their entire schoolcareers knowing each other. Alex was an enthusiastic young actor,according to David Snyder, the production's director and theartistic director of King's Academy's fine arts program.
"She loved theater, a really sweet girl who loved to sing," Snydersaid of Alex, whom he taught in a theater training class lastschool year, when she was a third-grader. "The kids are all veryclose, and love each other."
Alex's death "had such an impact" on its students that he canceled"Wizard of Oz" rehearsal for two weeks to give them time and spaceto absorb it. So enmeshed was she in the school community that hermemorial service was held at the school, where some cast memberssang "Jesus Loves the Little Children" and "It Is Well With MySoul."
That particular hymn features lyrics by Horatio Spafford, who wasinspired to write words of acceptance after the tragic death at seaof his four daughters. Snyder said that the choice of song gavestaff a chance to explain the song's history, and to inspire themin the difficult task of performing, and living, without Alex.
"Losing someone like this is a reminder of what's important," hesaid. "Our priority is now a little different, to do well (in theproduction) not only to please the Lord, but to do their best forAlex ... It's so fresh, so close for them."
And what a production it is. The King's Academy is known for itselaborate plays, including "Les Miserables" and the upcoming"Phantom of The Opera," and "Wizard" is no exception.
Wearing costumes from the original Broadway production, castmembers literally fly across the stage on a wire, like AlyssaBlakeney's Dorothy during the pivotal tornado scene.
But as opening night gets closer, the emotional weight of thecircumstances that led to the production's dedication loom large onthe cast and their families.
"It's hard to keep going, knowing that one of your cast members iswith God now," said Oksana Rubis, 14, the eighth-grader who playsthe Wicked Witch of the West. "Then again, that's good to knowthat's where she is."
In honor of their missing cast member, a special ending was writtenfor the play -- a reprise of the signature song "Somewhere Over theRainbow." It will still be sung by Blakeney's Dorothy near thestart, when she ponders a magical land somewhere beyondmonochromatic Kansas. But reprised at the end by the entire cast,it takes on new meaning as a statement to another place beyond thecosmos, where they believe Alex is watching, waiting to add herapplause.
"This is for her," said Jessica Curley, 13, who plays Glinda theGood Witch. "This is all to honor her."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @LeslieStreeter
If you go
"The Wizard of Oz"
Where: The King's Academy, 8401 Belevdere Rd.
When: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Oct. 19.
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.
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