Nearly 200 local students in classic opening tonight

HARLINGEN — Dorothy erupted into conniption fits the moment Miss Gulch began spewing her poison onto the stage.

“That dog’s a menace to the community,” said the evil Miss Gulch, who’d just dismounted from her bike to rip into Dorothy who cradled the feisty little Toto in her arms.

They were still in Kansas, but not for long. With the wicked Miss Gulch coming after her, they’d soon be on their way to the Wizard of Oz.

Miss Gulch, played by Savannah Smith, 17, tromped around stage at the Harlingen Performing Arts Center in her thick heels, beak nose and obnoxious chin shredding the air. She seemed at times to feel intimidated by Toto, played by Jasper, as she made declarations of the unthinkable.

“I’m taking him to the sheriff and make sure he’s destroyed,” she said.

Dorothy, played by Sahara Donna, 17, cringed at the thought.

“Destroyed?” she said frightfully. “Toto? Oh, you can’t! You mustn’t!”

And thus begins her journey to the Wizard of Oz, taking the audience with her along with Toto, the Cowardly Lion played by John Duncan, the Tin Man played by James Gracia, and the Scarecrow played by Christian Ingram.

Harlingen High School South Theatre Department’s production of the classic musical begins tonight with flying monkeys, an elegantly-dressed Glinda, smiling munchkins and a lost Dorothy finding her way back home.

The performance includes 195 Harlingen elementary, middle school and high school students.

“We wanted to go back to the classics,” said Leah Ann Ince, instructional coach for Speech, Drama and Debate for the Harlingen school district.

“We get a lot of recommendations from the elementaries,” Ince said. “They love the Wizard of Oz, so it’s kind of back by popular demand. We did it I think six years ago and we are revisiting it.”

She described this year’s production as the “new and improved version” because the district has hired a professional “fly” company.

“Our actors are flying,” she said excitedly. “You’re going to see flying monkeys. We’ve got extensive training. Our students are getting a great hands-on opportunity to learn what it’s like to do this in the professional world.”

The students put on a very professional performance, with Sahara, aka Dorothy, perfectly in character of a frightened and furious young girl.

“Oh, you wicked old witch!” she snaps at Miss Gulch/Savannah Smith.

“I’ve got an order!” says Miss Gulch. “Let me have him!”

Both Savanna and Sahara said they were enjoying their work on the production.

“I feel really honored,” said Sahara. “I’ve never been in a school play.”

Her years of choir prepared her for the eloquent musical renditions she delivered last night during dress rehearsals. She ran into some difficulty trying to sing exactly like Judy Garland, the original Dorothy.

“I tried to do that falsetto,” she said, shaking her head slightly. “They told me to just sing the way I sing.”

That she did, and it went over beautifully.

If You Go:

When: October 26 and 30 at 7 p.m., and Oct. 28 at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Where: HCISD Performing Arts Center, 3217 Wilson Road, Harlingen, TX

Cost: $10 general admission, $5 for students (with ID)