As a little girl, Jillian Edblad loved watching the movie version of “The Wizard of Oz.” She owned a pair of the iconic ruby-red slippers and carried a little stuffed Toto in a basket. When the opportunity came along to audition for Cambridge-Isanti High School’s fall musical “The Wizard of Oz” — opening this weekend at the Richard G. Hardy Performing Arts Center at Cambridge-Isanti High School — Jillian jumped at the chance.
But it wasn’t the part of Dorothy she won — that went to her dear friend Jenna Kirkeide. Instead, she is tackling the role made famous in the 1939 film by Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West.
“The Wicked Witch was always terrifying, and I hated how she treated Toto in the movie since I am an avid dog lover,” Jillian said. “Other than the scary witch, I saw the ‘Wizard of Oz’ as a magical getaway. The bright colors and fun characters impacted me as a child. Never in my life would I have thought that I would get the opportunity to step right into the show that played such a meaningful role in my childhood, and it has been more than I could ever imagine.”
Unlike Jillian, Jenna Kirkeide — this production’s Dorothy — has never seen the film classic, adapted from the book by L. Frank Baum and with music by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. “I know that sounds terrible, but don’t blame me,” she said. “My parents were always terrified of the flying monkeys, so I never saw it.”
Despite never having seen the movie, Jenna is delighted to tackle the part made famous by Judy Garland. She will be depicting Dorothy’s arduous journey from her home in Kansas, navigating over a Yellow Brick Road all the way to the magical Emerald City, all the while accompanied by a Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, along with her faithful dog Toto. Her voyage back to Kansas is thwarted at every turn by a Wicked Witch and by the Wizard of Oz himself. Eventually — spoiler alert! — she makes it back to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s farm, discovering in the process that “There’s no place like home.”
“I know that everyone in the audience has different expectations of how I should play Dorothy, but I am excited to put my own spin on her,” she said, adding that the support of her castmates and directors have helped her along the way. “I have so many people that work with me and give me suggestions on what I could add or what I shouldn’t do, so I’m not too worried about doing a terrible job. I am so excited that I got the opportunity to play this iconic part.
“It is a lot of work because Dorothy is in almost every scene. I haven’t done a character that is in this much of a musical, but it has been a fun challenge,” Jenna added.
One of the difficulties the actresses have faced has been playing adversaries. For Jillian, being the villain has occasionally been problematic.
“The hardest thing about being the bad guy is being cruel to the dog who plays Toto. I scared her one time, and I still feel awful about it,” she said. “So being the bad guy comes at a cost if it means scaring a sweet dog.”
Both girls are seniors and have participated in theater for years. They look forward to the production that opens this Saturday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. Subsequent performances are Sunday, Nov. 14, at 2 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, Nov. 19 and 20, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 21, at 2 p.m.
According to director Jared Faust, the musical is full of the beloved songs, characters and locations from the classic movie. More than 50 students have been working to bring the timeless story to life.
“Their hard work shows in every amazing, heart-warming second,” he said.
Tickets for the production can be purchased at the door or online at showtix4u.com.