Luis Parra paced the halls.

It was an hour before the first curtain of opening night for Hermiston High School's "The Wizard of Oz," and Parra was thinking about his first solo as the Cowardly Lion.

"I'm a little nervous about my song, but I'm also excited, because it's my time to shine," he said.

Later Friday evening, his performance of "If I Only Had the Nerve" would draw the hoped-for laughs and applause from a full house. But for the moment, Parra and the other student performers were trying to keep their nerves in check and their minds focused as they prepared their debut.

A couple of girls were working out their jitters by practicing the choreography for "The Jitterbug" in the hallway. In the choir room, a chorus member dressed as a ballerina was playing scales on the piano as Munchkins in striped socks sang along. Snatches of various tunes drifted from the band room as orchestra members warmed up their instruments, and backstage the black-clad crew members were busy laying out dozens of props and set pieces in precise order.

Parra and the other principal actors hadn't left the school since they arrived for classes Friday morning. Dress rehearsals at the beginning of the week had "started out a little rough," Parra said.

"But we got our confidence back," he added.

Brooks Bellinger was feeling confident. "The Wizard of Oz" was the sophomore's first high school play, but he managed to land the role of the Tin Woodsman. 

"I'm feeling great about it," he said. "It's definitely something I want to keep doing in the future."

He said the things that made him most nervous were making sure he hit all the notes in his solo and successfully managing the quick costume and makeup changes he had to make back stage as he shifted from Kansas farmhand Hickory to the Tin Man and back.

"That costume is complicated," he said of the Tin Man's silver vinyl get-up.

Bellinger's makeup changes were also the biggest source of worry for the makeup crew. Makaiyla Waddell, a junior serving as hair and makeup head for the show, said she would have about a minute and a half at the end of the show to take off Bellinger's silver makeup as Dorothy landed back in Kansas.

As she added hairspray to a Munchkin's up-do, she said she and the other makeup artists had been refining the looks for the different characters since the beginning of January.

"Stage makeup is really drastic since it's seen from far away," she said. "It looks weird up close, but our makeup motto is 'From a distance.'"

Shawn Conant, who played Professor Marvel and the Great and Powerful Oz, already had his makeup on. The sophomore said he was excited for the scene where he bellows from behind the curtain at Dorothy and her traveling companions, making them quake.

"With my diminutive stature, people usually don't take me seriously, but I get to be mean," he said.

Not all of the show's cast were high school students. A few elementary school students joined the cast as the "littlest Munchkins," and Toto was played by a real dog named Sparkey Bonifer, who rested obediently in actress Joy Love Breshear's arms for her scenes as Dorothy.

As the audience began to arrive and the clock ticked down the final minutes before showtime, director Beth Anderson and music director/choreographer/pit conductor Jordan Bemrose Rust herded the cast into the choir room for some last-minute stretches and vocal warm-ups.

"You've worked hard, you look amazing, you are amazing," Bemrose-Rust told them. "Go out and own it."

The group crowded around the piano to sing some warm-ups, then got into a circle and stretched. Finally, they ran through a series of quick tongue-twisters  ("Who washed Washington's white woolen underwear when Washingtons' washer woman went west?") before moving into their places backstage.

It was showtime.

The Wizard of Oz wraps up its final weekend on Feb. 8-9 at 7 p.m. at Hermiston High School. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for students.


Reporter covering city government and economic development in Hermiston, Umatilla, Stanfield and Echo.

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