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Once Upon A Rainbow 

Hix finds yellow brick road to success

In real life, pubescent girls aren't lifted from Kansas into the magical land of Oz. No, for Laura Hix, the improbable journey began in Huntersville -- with a detour into Texas.

Hix had two huge strikes against her when she decided to pursue the leading role of Dorothy in CPCC Summer Theatre's The Wizard of Oz. A recent graduate of SouthLake Christian Academy, Hix was a few years past the ideal age for L. Frank Baum's iconic Toto-toter. Worse, she was down in Dallas, half a continent away, while auditions were being held here in Charlotte on April 9-10.

But fairy tales can happen. Hix decided to send out a DVD before she left town.

"Just as sort of a last resort," Hix admits. "Or an afterthought, even ... I mean, who ever gets cast from a DVD?"

An e-mail to CP explained that she would be traveling south to visit the SMU campus during auditions. She had been accepted for admission there and at the Boston Conservatory of Music and was in the process of deciding between the two. More importantly, the video impressed director Dennis Delamar enough to give her a shot.

"The girl was beautiful in the video," Delamar recalls, "and her voice was incredible."

Hix was invited to sing for Delamar at callbacks after the original auditioners were narrowed down to the leading candidates for the coveted Dorothy role. But her plane was just landing at Charlotte-Douglas when callbacks were finished.

So Delamar once again deviated from custom. He invited Hix to appear the following morning when he, musical director Drina Keen and choreographer Linda Booth were scheduled to make their final casting decisions.

Delamar still had qualms after seeing the video, fearing that his songbird was too old. He advised her to come to auditions looking 14 or 15.

Hix didn't resort to blue gingham. But she did adopt the signature braids.

"You have to understand that I had no expectations of even being a real contender for the part," she explains. "So when I went in that morning, I just wanted to be me. It was just about looking young and wide-eyed and thrilled by life ... which I am. And as far as physically looking the part, God gave me brown eyes and brown hair. I can't take credit for that!"

For Delamar, there was an unforgettable Judy Garland frisson as soon as he saw Hix emerge from the elevator at CP. Then came that moment of truth when she was asked to sing what Delamar calls "my money song." He experienced -- intensely -- what thousands afterwards experienced at CP Summer's first-ever production in stately Halton Theater.

Booth and Delamar waited. Keen accompanied -- as Hix sang "Over the Rainbow."

"She started singing it," says Delamar, "and tears started welling up in Linda's eyes. I just turned around and watched. She was so into it; she was so feeling it. It was gorgeous. Just stunning."

Once she had navigated the music, Hix had to prove herself on the script. No problem. Delamar was convinced.

"At the end of the reading, I just blurted out -- because I was making eye contact with Drina -- yes! yes! -- and Linda too. And I blurted out, 'You are Dorothy!'"

Whereupon choreographer Booth shot Delamar a look that nearly stopped his heart. So he quickly remembered himself and added "If you can dance!"

The starring role marked Hix's Charlotte and professional debut. Getting the role was a longshot. A fairy tale.

"It was so unreal," Hix confides. "I wouldn't tell anybody I got the part for like a week because I was afraid they were going to take it back from me or something!"

After penning CL's Best Original Show in 2003 with The Friar and the Nurse, Stan Peal has notched a new conquest up in New York's Bad Musicals Festival, taking top honors -- make that bottom honors -- with The Best Little Crackhouse in Philly. So what times are next for the actor-playwright-producer-director-composer now that he has experienced the best and worst of awards?

Well, Peal and actress wife Laura Depta are planning to resuscitate their Epic Arts Repertory Theatre later this summer at Actor's Theatre. They're planning to premiere a new Peal musical comedy -- hopefully a good musical comedy -- based on the life of Milton Humason, an eighth-grade dropout who became an important astronomer working with Edwin Hubble.

Rehearsals have already begun for The Expanding Sky, opening on August 10.

Brian Charles Rooney, who earned a CL Award nomination last year as Jinx in NC Blumenthal's production of Forever Plaid, went from camp to vamp on Broadway this season playing Lucy Brown in the controversial revival of Threepenny Opera.

Closer to home, 11-year-old Corey Cray has gone on to greater prominence since earning a Best Newcomer nomination for his adorable role as Chip in Beauty and the Beast last summer. He went up to auditions in New York and wound up playing the role of young Patrick Dennis in the national tour of Mame.

The tour didn't quite provide Cray with a triumphant homecoming. It bypassed Charlotte, stopping in Durham and Fayetteville in its swing through the Carolinas.

Is it a summer fringe festival or a critics' dunking booth? The BareBones Theatre Group is making Theatre Charlotte their summer home and spearheading five events that they're calling What the F*&%$tival! One way or another, a trio of local critics will be involved in the outré celebration that begins on July 6 and runs through August 12.

Two pillars of the Charlotte Observer intelligentsia have committed to moderating post-show talkbacks during the fest. Movie maven Lawrence Toppman moderates a script-in-hand reading of The PornoZombies on July 21. Theater critic Julie York Coppens will moderate "The Wendy Readings" (July 22-23), a round of readings paying homage to Wendy Wasserstein on July 23.

Mopping up the rest of the critics' chores will be that longtime menial from Creative Loafing, your humble servant. I'll be leading talkbacks after True West (July 6-15) on July 14 and after The Last Five Years (Aug. 3-12) on Aug. 4.

But I'll really be opening myself up to criticism on July 29 when I'll be one of the playwrights participating in Attack of the 24-Hour Play Festival. Loaf readers will have the chance to see, mock and deride my first publicly produced play. What's more, they'll be entrusted with the task of coming up with the theme, line and quote ideas that I and five other playwrights (or playwrongs) will have exactly 12 hours to write plays about.

More details to follow.

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