Seriously good show is a ‘Wiz’ for Encore
Avery Dulak, 7, and Fernanda Vega, 9, both of Libertyville, rehearse a dance for the Jr. Encore production of "The Wiz." | Alyssa Schueneman~Sun-Times Media
Jr. Encore Theatre presents, at Lake Forest High School Auditorium, 1285 N. McKinley Road, Lake Forest
7 p.m. Thursday, July 19 and Friday, July 20, and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, July 21
(847) 708-8880 or visit www.encoretheatre.net
Updated: July 10, 2012 9:43PM
Dorothy belted out a tune with a maturity that belied her age. Toto was as cute as a pooch could be. The monkeys took turns trying on wings and flapping them. And the dancers were making great progress on learning a complicated routine.
Nearly three weeks before opening night, the cast of Jr. Encore Theatre’s “The Wiz” was giving their all at a three-hour rehearsal. Director Bob Silton and choreographer Annie Snow were both tough on the 37-person cast, ages 6-14, but no one was complaining.
“It’s not your typical children’s theater,” Silton explained. “It’s very professional in the manner that we push. We do shows to better everyone’s acting and also to challenge us as a group.”
Silton noted that people have been requesting the company stage “The Wizard of Oz” but he chose instead William F. Brown and Charlie Smalls’ rock, gospel and soul music-infused take on the L. Frank Baum classic because, “We like to do things a little bit differently and ‘The Wiz’ is not done very often. It’s such a good story with new music and a little twist. It’s beautiful onstage.”
Dorothy’s big voice belongs to 14-year-old Ashley Muller of Libertyville. “When I got the role, I freaked out,” she admitted. “It was the most amazing thing imagining myself in a couple of weeks being able to perform on such a big stage in front of so many people. I’m so honored to be able to play a role like that.”
Ashley described Dorothy as “a timid character because she was just taken away from her home in Kansas and she really does not know where she is. She landed in Oz and everything is so new to her. She’s scared but she’s also determined to get back to Kansas.”
Ashley has been involved with theater since she was two years old, initially at her church. She has performed with Encore for four years. “It really is my passion,” said Ashley, who takes singing and dancing lessons.
Adorable Toto is played by 11-year-old Libertyville resident Phoebe Ann Paslaski. She is so committed to theater that she already has an agent and one professional credit under her belt,” Wait Until Dark” at Lake Forest’s Citadel Theatre. This is Phoebe’s 15th show with Encore.
“Toto is usually a dog in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but in ‘The Wiz’ Toto comes to life when we go to Oz,” Phoebe said. “I’m more of a mime and it’s fun because I get the challenge of acting without lines.”
Fourteen-year-old Hadley VanDerBosch of Libertyville plays Evilene, the Wicked Witch of the West. “She’s very mean. She makes people work a lot for no pay and she’s wicked as her name,” Hadley said.
Although there’s nothing mean about Hadley, she thinks it’s the right role for her. “It’s a very comedic part and I think I can do that. Also, I’m loud and the character needs to be loud,” she said.
Hadley has been acting since she was nine and joined Encore when she was 11. She studies voice, dancing, acting and dialects.
Zachary Daniel Ford, 12, of Libertyville plays Evilene’s assistant, Lord High Underling. “He’s in charge of the monkeys,” Zachary said. “He gets bossed around by the Wicked Witch of the West.”
Zachary said he has “a really cool costume and it’s a fun part.” This is his ninth show with Encore.
The Tin Man is played by 14-year-old Sarah Broughton of Libertyville. “He is basically the brains of the four,” she said, referring to Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. “He keeps everyone coolheaded and he’s kind of a leader.”
Like the character she plays, Sarah said, “I’m kind of a levelheaded person.”
This is Sarah’s 17th show with Encore.
Jackie Ovassapian, 14, of Libertyville plays the Cowardly Lion. “He puts on this big act of arrogance but he’s a scaredy cat,” Jackie said. “He’s also a very fun guy. His personality is big.”
Jackie thinks the part fits because, “I like to call myself a fun person.”
Jackie began acting in preschool and has done 16 shows with Encore. She has also been involved in her school’s drama club and show choir.
All the cast members are committed to Jr. Encore Theatre despite the rigorous rehearsals and strict demands. Silton’s explanation is, “We act as a family.” That includes a recent 40-person theater weekend trip to New York City as well as local theater outings. It’s all about loving theater — onstage or off.