In April 1978, Hilltop Primary School produced the Westonka School District’s first operetta, “The Wizard of Oz.” Directed by teacher Kathy (Hoffmann) Ireland and accompanied by teacher Char Jassim, nearly 100 students were involved in a production that marked the beginning of what has become a 40-year tradition between Westonka’s two primary schools.

To celebrate the milestone, directors Theresa Schmidt and Jenny Hofstad chose “The Wizard of Oz” for this year’s operetta, which will be held March 15, 16 and 17 in the Little Theater at Mound Westonka High School, the same location as the 1978 production. But this year marks the last time the operetta will be held there, with the completion of the new Westonka Performing Arts Center scheduled for next fall.

“‘The Wizard of Oz’ has been performed at Hilltop many times since 1978, but I have never directed it,” said Schmidt, who called Ireland her mentor. “I thought this is the year to do it! We accidentally picked St. Patrick’s Day weekend, but what a happy coincidence ...everything green and rainbows!”

The operetta, which is produced every third year, is open to all Hilltop students in grades 2 through 4. This year, a total of 95 students are involved in the production.

Dana Lewman played the Wicked Witch in the 1978 production as a fifth-grader. She recalls her audition for the part in Hoffmann’s music room.

“I recall that the other auditions were very subdued, so when my chance came I let out a blood curdling, cackling laugh that later would terrify all the little kids in the front row during the show!” she said. “I knew the witch required a scary laugh like I’d heard in the TV movie. I think that got me the part, and I loved the role.”

What Lewman remembers most about the production was the backstage process of putting everything together. “I remember the happy chaos backstage with everyone getting into costume and makeup, and rehearsing their bits,” she recalled. “My favorite line in my part was, ‘I’ll get you, Dorothy, and your little dog too’!”

Lewman went on to become an art major and work in props in theaters in Minneapolis and eventually New York. She now lives in Costa Rica and travels with her musician boyfriend.

This year’s production is co-directed by Schmidt and Hofstad, with set design by art teacher Klair Hans. Student director Jenna Courneya has faithfully attended all of the rehearsals and has also been a big help this year. 

The public is cordially invited to attend.

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