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MCT Will Stage Special WIZARD OF OZ

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Performances will take place September 11 and 12.

MCT Will Stage Special WIZARD OF OZ

Muskegon Civic Theatre in September will return to live, indoor performance with something special.

At 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 and 3 p.m. Sept. 12, the latest annual offering of The Penguin Project will bring the musical "The Wizard of Oz" to the stage of the downtown Frauenthal Theater inside the Frauenthal Center.

Tickets are available at the MCT website, www.muskegoncivictheatre.org. They are $13 including box office fees.

Produced by MCT and the No More Sidelines organization, The Penguin Project affords live performance opportunities to children, teenagers and young adults with special needs.

Penguin Project artists have a wide spectrum of needs including Down syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorders, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy and ADHD. Participation in the program enhances social skills, communication skills, and self-esteem.

Using "Junior" versions of Broadway musicals that are professionally modified for young performers, The Penguin Project matches young theatre artists with peer mentors who guide and assist them through rehearsals, and join them on stage for the production.

The results are transforming.

"The Penguin Project is an experience that is life-changing for not only our artists, mentors and families, but the community as a whole," said Heidi Sunderhaft Christiansen, the show's director. "... To say it brings a community together is an understatement.

"Through the collaboration ... our community thrives by having such a meaningful shared experience. I am a firm believer that your life is changed for the better after experiencing a Penguin Project Production."

As the first Penguin Project program in Michigan; MCT and No More Sidelines began producing Penguin Project shows in 2017, with plans to stage a different play every year. Past productions have included "Annie Jr.", "Peter Pan Jr." and "Aladdin Jr."

There was no show in 2020 when The Penguin Project was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic forcing theatres to close.

For "The Wizard of Oz," because of continuing health concerns, face masks are being recommended for everyone entering the Frauenthal Center.

Participants in this year's show are from schools in Muskegon and Ottawa counties, some mentors that are homeschooled, and Muskegon Community College students.

It all leads to magic in an historic, 1,725-seat theater than opened in 1930.

"Dreams come true for our artists as they perform on the amazing Frauenthal stage," said Sunderhaft Christiansen, "and The Penguin Project demonstrates that the special challenges of a disability should not handicap an individual's ability to participate in life's experiences.

"The impact of the Penguin Project reaches beyond the stage, creating a network of friends along with social opportunities. As the saying goes, 'Our penguins may not be able to fly, but that does not prevent their spirits from soaring.'"

Heading the "Wizard of Oz" cast in principal roles are Kassidy White as Dorothy Gale, Lauren Marshall as Aunt Em, Aaron Hunter as Uncle Henry, Michael Amoros as Hunk (Scarecrow), Luke Lewis as Zeke (Lion), Raymond Crosby as Hickory (Tin Man), Kylee VanTol as Miss Gulch (Wicked Witch of the West), Caroline Burel as Toto, Michael Groustra as Professor Marvel and the Doorman, Nick Gilland as the Wizard of Oz, Maddie Dukes as Glinda, and Stephanie Miller as Nikko.

Also, in the cast are Aurora Wells, Audrey DeVries, Brendan Stroud, Hannah Bevans, Desi Jhandi, Livi Moulton, Sammy Reminder, Gabrielle McCloskey, Hannah Hunter, Alivia Blair, Ben Dandron, Chris Sturgis, Hannah Hunter, Christian Preston, Lindsay McCarthy, Cherokee Frost, Dakota Kimble, Sam Stroud, Aaron Hunter and Chris Sturgis.

Mentors include Sara Harper, Emma Marshall, Sophia Ross, Amy Reminder, Aiden Tygrett, Aurora (Rory) Ponce, Bella Resterhouse, Cambell Robinson, Jakari Carson, McKayla Tyers, Kara Koches, Sophia Koches, Ava Rodriguez, Carly Califf, Oliva Stembol, Chloe McLouth, Gracy Vanoordt, Lydia Carefelle, Alison Mastee, Rachael Arbib, Bel'en Francis, Elise Houle, Drew Coleman, Rebecca Peterson, Aden Welch, Ryan Bonney, Spence Escareno-Kniat, Lena Lambert, Kate Miller, Lennon Lassanske, Claire Biesiada and Abbie Kirchner.

The artistic staff includes assistant director Trent Klairter, stage manager Adrianne Lewis, music director Heather McCallum, choreographer Samantha Portice, mentor coordinators Amy White and Cyndi Blair, producer Mark Lewis, and Erin Sharpe, MCT's administrator of education.

Corporate Partners for the production are Active Manufacturing Corporation, Carter Manufacturing, and the Frauenthal Center.


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