Over the rainbow

St. Matthew School is preparing to cross over the rainbow with The Wizard of Oz, its first ever musical production.

There’s no place like St. Matt’s: Students at St. Matthew’s School in Mayfair will perform the Wizard of Oz this weekend. In September, the planning for St. Matt’s drama club’s first ever musical began, quickly followed by rehearsals for the American classic musical. JOHN COLE / TIMES PHOTOS

To some at St. Matthew’s School in Mayfair, this may feel like a long time coming, but the drama program is now just days away from its first live musical performance. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, students at St. Matt’s will perform the Wizard of Oz in their auditorium.

St. Matt’s is well known for consistently being one of the largest Catholic grade schools in Northeast Philadelphia, but a drama club was something the school had been missing for years.

Last year, St. Matt’s teachers Stephanie Dignam and Dorothy Smith collaborated on the idea of adding a drama club to the school and put the plan into motion.

“St. Matt’s is really big on CYO sports, there’s a lot of sports programs here, but not anything for the kids who are interested in musical theater or performing arts,” Dignam said. “We just thought this would be a great opportunity for them to showcase their talent.”

After hard work and planning, the drama club was officially active in St. Matt’s, but now Dignam and Smith were responsible for gauging interest in seeing who would want to participate in a play.

In September, the planning for St. Matt’s drama club’s first ever musical began and it was decided that the students would perform the Wizard of Oz. The very next month, rehearsals started to fill out the roles for this American classic.

Approximately 35 students ranging from third through eighth grades lined up to try out for various roles in the musical. Students with a passion for acting as well as choir members showed interest and wanted to showcase their talent for the occasion.

For months, students and parents alike have spent countless hours in St. Matt’s auditorium to perfect their roles in the show. Paul Dignam, husband of Stephanie, is the director of the Wizard of Oz at St. Matt’s. Dignam had previously directed the Wizard of Oz in the 1990s, but has not done so for this specific show since then. Regardless of the time that has passed, Dignam knows the play’s impact has not withered in American society.

“It’s a timeless story, everybody knows the Wizard of Oz,” said Dignam. “It’s good vs. evil type of thing which everybody likes and good wins out in the end, everybody likes those kind of stories.”

Another essential member of the production who was happy to join the cause is Cynthia Hallman. She is the pianist for the play who will be responsible for playing songs such as The Wizard of Oz, Over the Rainbow and If I Only Had a Brain, to name a few. Hallman has performed numerous plays as a pianist for high school performances, but is excited to be a part of this grade school production.

“This is a nice change to come back and do a show (at St. Matt’s),” said Hallman. “I find it thrilling and it’s just wonderful to work with the young children and give them an idea of what it’s like to do it in high school maybe, or maybe even go on to college and major in drama or music.”

One of those who can speak from the perspective of getting a college degree in theater is Dorothy Smith, the producer for the Wizard of Oz who believes the show gives the kids a real unique experience that can only be felt when performing in front of an audience.

“It’s kind of breaking the wall from just singers singing in a choir to singers being able to explore different elements of voice and sound and to combine dance, is a new level for them,” said Smith. “They’re very excited to show all of that off. They’re really pumped with that stage mentality that they want to perform for somebody.”

Although this is just the first performance for their drama club, they are hoping this is just the beginning of something special at St. Matt’s. Stephanie Dignam, the choreographer, believes this show will do more than just benefit their future in the theater world.

“What a great experience it is for them to get up and speak in front of people,” said Dignam. “That’s going to help them in every aspect of life.”

Tickets for the show are $5. Times are 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 12, and Saturday, Jan. 13, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 14. ••