Over The Rainbow

More To Education: Clifton fifth grade students perform classic The Wizard of Oz in three performances to fellow students, friends and family at CISD’s Performing Arts Center

CLIFTON – Besides being an entertaining and exciting children’s story The Wizard of Oz,” like C.S. Lewis’ “Alice in Wonderland,” has many underlying layers. It explores themes such as courage, humanity, and good versus evil. And it’s those layers that make the story relatable to adults as well. Add the many well-known songs into the mix and you have a wonderful show.

In a show that required 15 colorful, impressive set changes, multiple creative costume changes and 63 pages of scripts and songs, nearly 90 Clifton Elementary School fifth grade students entertained and wowed family, friends and fellow classmates with this year’s musical. They performed “The Wizard of Oz,” the abridged, one-hour edition in three performances last week at the Clifton Independent School District’s Performance Arts Center.

While the production requires a lot of collaboration of teachers, volunteers and students alike, putting in tireless hours, the annual musical is a much-anticipated event the Clifton fifth grade students. With many solo songs, group songs and crowd scenes, all the fifth grade students got a chance to shine in the stage spotlights. The stage lighting and sound effects added to the drama of the scenes, impressing the audience.

Like any Broadway musical, it takes a village of people to stage the production and create the magic of theater on stage – a director, assistant directors, choreography staff, backstage manager, lights and sound technicians, sets and props, background scenes, costumes, advertising and a program designer.

“Why do we do this each spring, just before testing begins? CES Principal Dr. Wes Brown asked the audience rhetorically. “Because there’s more to education than math, science and history.”

According to Brown, working on such a long-term project, collaborating with classmates and teachers provides students invaluable experience and knowledge. He proudly announced that no-one gave up in the process. He recognized the fifth grade faculty, the creators and producers of the sets, the costumes and all the volunteers who contributed to the show’s success. Playing a part in one of his childhood’s favorite stories, Brown himself took on the booming backstage voice for the Wizard.

Over a hundred years after L. Frank Baum wrote his 1900 children's fantasy novel on which “The Wizard of Oz” is based, the musical remains one of the most enduring and popular. Most people know all the songs like “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead,” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard” from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 musical film. They had the packed PAC audience toe-tapping and singing along. Besides the songs, quotes such as “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” “Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my,” and “There’s no place like home,” found their way into the popular mainstream.

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert chose it as one of his Great Films, writing that "The Wizard of Oz has a wonderful surface of comedy and music, special effects and excitement, but we still watch it six decades later because its underlying story penetrates straight to the deepest insecurities of childhood, stirs them and then reassures them."

In 1974, a musical Broadway show featuring and all African American cast with Michael Jackson as the scarecrow and Diana Ross as Dorothy further popularized the iconic songs. And the immensely popular Broadway musical Wicked which premiered in 2003, became the second-highest grossing Broadway musical of all time.

The story line follows young Dorothy Gale, who dreams of a more adventurous life than what she has with her aunt and uncle in rural Kansas; a life “over the rainbow.” She runs away from home when she finds out authorities want to take away her beloved pet dog Toto. But at the beginning of her journey, a Kansas cyclone whisks her away to the magical Land of Oz. Is this the land over the rainbow?

But now, all she wants is to get back home. Wearing magic ruby slippers and under the Good Witch of the North Glinda’s protection, Dorothy sets out down the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City to find the Wizard of Oz for advice how to get home. On the way, she finds both adventure and friends – the Scarecrow who thinks he needs brains, the sentimental Tin Man in search of a heart and the Cowardly Lion who thinks he needs courage.

After a long journey, overcoming many threats while drawing upon their own resources, Dorothy and her friends boldly and bravely succeed in their mission. Together they encounter and conquer the evil Wicked Witch of the West and her army of flying monkeys.

Because of their feats, before he leaves, the Wizard hands the Scarecrow a diploma, the Cowardly Lion a medal of honor and the Tin Man testimonial heart, assuring them that they are as accomplished as anyone “back where I come from,” and that they possessed the sought-after attributes all along. And finally, Dorothy and Toto can return home after an enlightening and empowering journey. All they needed was the conviction and faith in themselves.

The final scene leads the audience to believe that the journey was all a dream, after Dorothy bumped her head during the cyclone. But the musical’s important lesson shines through either way – it’s not enough to understand things logically when pursuing your goals, you have to be brave and you have to care.

All the students in the musical accomplished that lesson and mission, whether overcoming their anxiety and possible stage fright, remembering the many lines, performing all those dance steps and singing for a large audience. They all definitely cared deeply for their director Beth Fry as they chanted her name after the final curtain. Over the years, Fry directed and guided countless students and helpers from the first read through to the final product that had the audience over the moon with love and pride for their young stars, that made the journey over the rainbow and back.


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