From Dozens of Girls, Only One Dorothy

Outside the theater department at Westfield High School in northern Virginia, a line of nervous teenagers is queuing up.

It's the first day of auditions for "The Wiz," the Tony award-winning black musical based on L. Frank Baum's classic, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

More than 100 kids are trying out, but only one will get the title role of Dorothy, the dreamy-eyed girl from Kansas who gets caught in a tornado and launched on a terrifying adventure in the land of Oz.

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Inside the audition room, dubbed "the black box," theater arts director Scott Pafumi and his production team closely watch each girl's singing, acting and dancing abilities.

"I'm testing to see what their strengths are. We're not Broadway so we don't necessarily get kids who are 'triple threats,'" he said. "In high school, we're lucky if we get two out of three."

Picking the Right Dorothy

There is a dizzying array of choices for Pafumi. Shy freshmen compete alongside seasoned seniors. A string of pretty brunettes twirl past to the "tornado" music. Braces flash as the teens mumble their monologues. Everybody wants to be Dorothy.

Pafumi knows what he's looking for in the star of his production.

"Dorothy needs to be sweet, innocent, girlish and pretty. I'm looking for honesty. She has to be honest and real and cute and an amazing singer," Pafumi said.

And, given the play's ensemble cast, the chosen actress needs to have chemistry with the rest of the actors.

"I'm looking for her to be someone the audience can easily connect to, who reminds them of my daughter, my sister, my best friend. Dorothy should be an everyman character," he said. "She's someone we know, the girl next door, but gets to go on this journey and our escape into Oz is through Dorothy's perspective. We are all Dorothy on that journey and we see the world through her eyes."

Dorothy Prospects Feel Pressure

It's a daunting list of requirements, and the girls are feeling the pressure. Martina Green, a tiny, almost childlike 17-year-old, is fighting a bad case of nerves and a cold.

"This is my first time auditioning for any play. My strengths are I have a strong voice for such a little person," she said. "I can project very well when I'm not sick."

She is surrounded by a sympathetic group of friends who pour honey down her throat, hand her cups of hot tea and offer advice on how to soothe an aching throat.

"I heard the other girls, and I saw them getting ready for their auditions," Green said. "I was really nervous because they know what to do ahead of time to prepare themselves for an audition. I wasn't as well trained as they were."

Martina's mentor is senior Jade Jones, one of the top singers in the theater department.

"I love performing. When I'm on the stage I feel like a different person and you don't think of anything else you're in that moment, and I just feel great when I'm on the stage," Jones said.

Prior to the audition, Pafumi said Jones's chances for the lead role are excellent, and many girls say Jones she's a shoe-in.

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