By: Lacy Hilliard
Last weekend, beginning on Friday the 9th, the Johnson County High School Players in partnership with the Johnson County Young Artists put on three performances of The Wizard of Oz so grand; many audience members followed the yellow brick road to Heritage Hall for every performance.
Under the direction of Lisa Zeggert, the students dazzled audiences with a performance that rivaled even professional productions of the 1939 classic. The combination of the Johnson County High School Players and the Johnson County Youth Artists proved to be a winning one that made the audience feel as though they too had entered the wonderfully weird world of Oz right along with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion and little Toto.
The phenomenal Kristen Branch embodied the role of Dorothy Gale in the JCHS Players/JCYA production of The Wizard of Oz. Branch is a JCHS Players veteran and has been involved in theater since the 7th grade. A natural actress, Branch favors the iconic Judy Garland not only in looks but also in talent. Kristens captivating performance easily won the hearts of audience members as her lovely voice lifted them all somewhere over the rainbow.
The spectacularly talented Morgan Eggers played the role of Scarecrow/Hunk. Eggers shined in the role that was made famous by Roy Bolger. His energetic, endearing and heartwarming portrayal of the Scarecrow seemed effortless. With the level of talent Morgan Eggers possesses, its easy to envision his powerful voice ringing through the halls of whichever Broadway Theater is fortunate enough to have him.
Brian Dempsey starred as the Tin Man/Hickory in the JCHS Players/JCYA performance of The Wizard of Oz. Dempsey is a theater veteran and his representation of the Tin Man proved that theres wealth in experience. Dempsey is an all around impressive student excelling in not only the arts but also academics and sports. Dempsey was all heart and his dramatization of the Tin Man was anything but rusty.
David Eller portrayed the role of the Cowardly Lion/Zeke. Also a seasoned stage veteran, Eller was the clear choice to play the role of the Cowardly Lion. It didnt take Eller long to become King of the forest or more appropriately, the Heritage Hall stage. With a woof and ruff and a royal growl, Eller was an easy crowd favorite.
Hannah Arnett played the role of Auntie Em/Glinda the Good Witch of the North. Arnett is always entrancing in beauty, grace and performance. Arnett easily commands the stage and has proven her worth as a member of the JCHS Players time and again.
The role of Almira Gultch/the Wicked Witch of the West was acted by Tayla Clark. Off the stage, its hard to imagine the kindhearted Tayla Clark as wicked but just as soon as her black-heeled boots hit the stage, Clark easily transformed herself into a cackling conjurer of all things evil. Not only was Clark able to cackle with a straight face, she also kept her cool while trying to corral wayward Flying Monkeys.
Gerald Seaberg played the role of Professor Marvel/the Wizard of Oz. Seaberg carries with him a certain air of wisdom and mystery making him the perfect choice for the Wizard. His diction and timing on stage are clearly cultivated from years of experience and the Johnson County community would do well to keep an eye on this rising star.
The members of the Johnson County Young Artists provided the bulk of the supporting roles and were as follows: The tornado dancers/Hunted Forest trees/Emerald City dancers were played by Colleen Conder, Maddi Eddington, Cassidy Lakatos, Sadie Ward and Deanna Younce. The chorus/Apple Trees/Haunted Forest trees/Emerald City people were played by Abigail Arnett, Sydney Manuel and Josie Ward. There were several Munchkins/Ozians with speaking/singing roles including Jonathan Wilcox, Samantha Manuel, Deklan Thomas, Jaden Tolliver, Chole Pennington, Leann Crosswhite, Emma Robinson, Dominick Kelley, Samuel Mann, Rory Springer, Peyton Gentry and Aden Thomas. Supporting Ozians/Munchkins included Kyla Tolliver, Sierra Greene, Julia Crews, Lacey Payne, Lexi Proffitt, Emma Savery and McKenna Younce. Playing the roles of Munchkins as well as the dreaded (but in this case adorable) Flying Monkeys were Holly Lay, Ivy Lakatos, Elora Hilliard and Gavan Conder. Members of the army of the Wicked Witch, also known as Winkies were Deklan Thomas, Rory Springer, Samuel Mann and Dominick Kelley. Finally, playing the roles of Ozian Men, Women and Beauticians were Jaden Tolliver, Jonathan Wilcox, Emma Robinson, Samantha Manuel, Lindsay Barry, Marly Conder, Janae Eshelman and Lindsey Hutchinson.
Stage managers for the production were Katie Walsh and Ella Conder. Walsh also provided her talents as JCYA Assistant Director and Conder as Student Director. Lisa Zeggert with the help of Evan Lewis provided all of the music for the production. In charge of choreography was Sydney Crews and providing lights and sound for all three performances were Derek Dickson, Chase McGlamery and Bob Morrison. Carlyn Eggers, Naomi King, Karley Kirsch and Mackenzie Robinson acted as costume/prop directors with the help of several local organizations and individuals including Mountain City Antiques and Collectibles, Barter Youth Academy, JCYA and JCHS parents and the Johnson County Community Theatre. Makeup was provided by TrueBella Makeup Artist Ashley Dyson Miller and hair was done by Vanessa Main. Set design and construction was B.J. Lakatos, Richard Walsh, Fred Norris, the JCHS Drama Department and George Triplett. Marketing as well as program design was provided by Steve Dunfee, Tori Israel, Casey Lunceford, and Carlos Valladares.
The Wizard of Oz was a huge undertaking with countless members of the community volunteering their time and efforts to the betterment of the production. Lisa Zeggert, the Johnson County Young Artists and the Johnson County High School Players are extremely thankful to all those that supported this endeavor by volunteering or by attending one of the performances. Zeggert also professed thanks to Heritage Hall for providing a quality venue that gives local youth a chance to do what they love.
If youve never seen a Johnson County High School Players or Johnson County Young Artists production, youre truly missing out on one of the best displays of artistry this region has to offer. Keep an eye on The Tomahawk for all upcoming performances and events or visit www.heritagehalltheatre.org for ticket information.