Somewhere over the rainbow, musicals written by high school teens grow up to be full-blown touring musicals with all-star casts.
Welcome to "Oz the Musical," the brainchild of actor-writer-director-producer-choreographer Todrick D. Hall, who is all of 24. He wrote most of it when he was all of 17.
The results are beating a yellow brick path to Illinois State University's Braden Auditorium at 7 p.m. Friday. And they're packing a bona fide all-tween-star cast led by pop singer Aundrea Fimbres (see list).
Fimbres, who plays Dorothy, was visible through the third season of MTV's "Making the Band" series, which spawned her platinum-selling girl band, Danity Kane, the first female group in Billboard history to debut their first two albums at the top of he charts.
It's just days before the high-energy caravan hits the road for the short but intense national tour, and Hall and Fimbres are deep into costume fittings and other last-minute details.
Taking a break from same, the pair offer their thoughts regarding what, at first glance, sounds similar to an earlier urban update of "The Wizard of Oz," "The Wiz."'
Hall, who played Bobby in the Oprah Winfrey-produced Broadway version of "The Color Purple," says there's no comparison.
"That show ('The Wiz') was an all-R&B version with an all African-American cast; this show isn't that at all -- it has a lot of types of music, from hip-hop to rock to country," says Hall. "We're making fun of a lot of things, a la 'Mean Girls' and 'Legally Blonde.' We use all types of choreography, from tap to ballet to a 'Stomp'-style routine."
The latter, in fact will involve around 105 local kids recruited to play Munchkins and flying monkeys (who 'Stomp' instead of becoming airborne).
"It's really a good time," chimes in Fimbres, now a free agent since Danity Kane broke up a year ago. "I'm really excited to be a part of this. Everyone in the cast is really talented and we're all having a great time."
Never mind that all of their costumes were damaged beyond repair last month, courtesy Hurricane Ida's pass near the facility where the costumes were stored.
"So we all spent a day going to the mall to look for clothes," adds Hall. "Actually, what we've found has turned out better than the costumes we paid $10,000 for. They're more whimsical, more fun now."
It all seems to follow "Oz the Musical's" pervading "hey-kids-let's-put-on-a show!" vibe.
Growing up in the small farming town of Plainview, Texas, Hall nurtured a "Wizard of Oz" fixation." As a 17-year-old high school student, he penned a modernized script along with a new score.
Following his "Color Purple" success, he gained the clout to take the musical out of mothballs, write some new songs and give it a new coat of paint.
Per his industry connections, he didn't hold auditions; he just called friends and associates and offered them the parts.
"Todrick called me and said he was a fan of the group and told me about the part," Fimbres recalls. "And it felt like something different from being in a sexy girl group and all that kind of thing."
Hall says he isn't aiming for Broadway, a la "Color Purple." Rather, he wants to keep it under his thumb as he travels from market to market, recruiting kids to play Munchkins and passing along his enthusiasm for "putting on a show."
"'The Color Purple' was a huge deal," says Hall. "But to me this is the more fulfilling, life-changing experience. I get to see the look in all those kids' eyes each time we start doing the show."
He adds, "It's an amazing thing to get to do -- introducing them to theater."
At a glance
What: National tour of "Oz, the Musical"
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: ISU Braden Auditorium
Tickets: $21 to $26
Box office: 309-438-5444
In addition to Danity Kane alum Aundrea Fimbres, who plays Dorothy (pictured on D2), the all-star cast of "Oz the Musical" also features:
• Thayne Jasperson (Scarecrow): Best known as a season four finalist on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," Jasperson also appeared in the original "High School Musical" as a Brainiac and "High School Musical 2" as a featured dancer.
• Nathaniel Flatt (Tin Man): Flatt is a member of the boy band, V Factory, a Radio Disney staple and purveyors of the hit single, "Love Struck."
• Orlando Brown (Lion): The veteran of the "Oz" group, Brown has been a professional actor-musician since 1995, when he was 8; best known as Eddie Thomas on Disney Channel's hit series, "That's So Raven."
• Ryne Sanborn (Wizard): "Oz's" bona fide "High School Musical" alum, having portrayed East High basketball player Jason Cross in all three movies.
• Vonzell Solomon (Glinda): Aka Baby V, Solomon finished in third place in the fourth season of "American Idol."
Local kids dance their way on stage
NORMAL -- In addition to its all-star cast of "American Idol" and Disney Channel alums, "Oz the Musical" will also boast a sizable local connection when it takes to the stage of Illinois State University's Braden Auditorium.
Featured at one point in the production will be more than 100 area kids as Munchkins and flying monkeys.
The show's writer-director, Todrick D. Hall, who played Bobby in "The Color Purple" on Broadway, personally selected the 105 children from around 150 who turned up for auditions a month ago.
"We're using everyone except around 40 or 50 who were just too young," Hall says.
He's returned to the Twin Cities several times since for rehearsals, and will lead a dress rehearsal Friday several hours prior to the 7 p.m. curtain time.