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Wizard of Oz a ‘wicked’ success in Fort Kent

FORT KENT, Maine — Official numbers are not yet in, but Fort Kent Community High School educator Doug Clapp said student performances of “The Wizard of Oz” drew between 1,100 and 1,200 audience members last week, possibly making it the most attended production in the history of SAD 27 theater.  

“It was possibly the biggest we’ve had,” said Clapp, who directed the show. “‘Annie’ was huge last year, but it looks like this outgrossed it a bit.”

Valley Rivers Middle School eighth-grader Sadie Pelletier, the daughter of Bob and Tina Pelletier of Fort Kent, performed in the lead role of Dorothy. A newcomer to musical theater, Pelletier initially auditioned for the role of The Scarecrow, but Clapp saw potential in the youngster and cast her as the lead.

“She had charisma,” Clapp said. “And you could just see it that this girl had that kind of like acting range of emotion that was very much what Dorothy needed.”

Pelletier said she was very surprised to get the role.

“I was thinking about not even trying out, but I decided to anyway and now I’m glad I did,” she said.

The production included more than 40 children ranging in age from elementary school to high school, and also encompassed several University of Maine at Fort Kent students. The performances took place at the UMFK Fox Auditorium.

The youngest star of the show was 4-month-old German shepherd Max Clavette, who played Toto the dog. Max belongs to Tammy, Madison and A.J. Clavette of Fort Kent. Madison Clavette, 12, had dual roles in the play as a Munchkin and beautician.

The easygoing pup appeared undaunted by the large audiences who came to see the shows, and seemed happy to follow Pelletier’s Dorothy around the stage by a red leash.

“The way she handled the dog; she handled him intelligently,” Clapp said of Pelletier. “She’s a very modest girl but she was obviously thinking, always thinking up there (on stage).”

Guiding such a large cast of children was not easy, but also was not without community support. Parents of student actors, for instance, filled in as makeup artists and costume designers.

“The parent involvement was phenomenal. This play would not have been possible without it,” said SAD 27 music educator Samantha Boutot, who also served as musical director for The Wizard of Oz.

Boutot said the students and adults involved in preparing the show spent countless hours during weeknights and weekends for more than two months working on the production, but that it was worth the effort.

“I think the singing along with the acting was amazing. We worked hard on acting during songs and getting the timing right for it all,” she said. “I think the collaboration to get them all there for rehearsals was a challenge. These kids all have busy lives and had to commit themselves to this play in order for it to be a success. Thankfully, due to their commitment, it all came together beautifully.”

Suzie Paradis, who is also town manager of Fort Kent, choreographed the show with intricate dance routines that had young children spinning, leaping and skipping across the stage like young Broadway musical stars.

Taylor Martin, SAD 27 band educator, helped build the elaborate sets that Clapp designed for the production.

“He did a great job, always helping with carpentry. The kids can’t use saws so all the sawing usually falls on me but (Martin) stepped up and he did a lot of the work too so it was double what I could do,” Clapp said.

The hard work by all those involved in the production of “The Wizard of Oz” seems to have paid off according to audience members.

Sisters Hannah Daigle, a CHS senior, and Larissa Daigle, a VRMS 8th grader, attended the show on Saturday evening. Both agreed they wanted to support their classmates.

“All of my friends were in it and they put a lot of work in it,” Larissa Daigle said. “Everybody was talking about it at school.”

Hannah, who is a varsity athlete, said she appreciates how so many students attend soccer and basketball games, and wanted to show her support for student theater.

“They support us so we support drama,” she said.

Both Daigles said they enjoyed the performance.

“My favorite part was probably when Dorothy woke up again and said, ‘There’s no place like home,’” Larissa Daigle said.

Clapp said he plans to direct another musical next year involving a similarly wide range of community actors. He said the shows “Beauty and the Beast,” “Oliver,” “The Little Mermaid” or “The Nightmare Before Christmas” currently come to mind as possibilities.

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