Dancers to follow the yellow brick road

The Wizard of OZ is due to arrive in the local area soon, but several citizens of Munchkinland have been seen frolicking through Wheeling’s Center Market Area, apparently heading to the Toni Zeakes Performing Arts Center, in preparation to follow that infamous yellow brick road.

Toni Zeakes, owner of the well-known studio, was approached by representatives of the touring company of The Wizard of OZ some months back and asked to consider having a select group of young dancers from her studio be prepared to take to the stage with the professional actors and dancers when the show reached the Ohio Valley for its performance at the Capitol Music Hall.

“But they are not going to just dance, they have to be able to act while on stage and to fit in with the professional cast. They are each going to have a lot of responsibility,” shared Zeakes. “We are all so proud of them and all their hard work.”

Selected dancers – all students of Zeakes include: Katie Angius of Triadelphia; Sydney Baum of Barnesville; Victoria Bumba of Jacobsburg; Danielle Dvorcek of Dillonvale; Megan Edwards of Martins Ferry; Madison Estep of Moundsville; Taylor Grimm of Dillonvale; Rylie Purtiman of Bellaire; Sydney Purtiman of Bellaire; Ashleigh Sherman of Adena; Daniella Truong of Bethlehem; and Abigail Vernon of Bethlehem.

The team preparing the young dancers is being led by Toni Zeakes, owner and head of Toni Zeakes, Performing Arts Center. It also includes her granddaughters Liza Jones, and Taylor Jones; Ed Street, acting coach and head of Bellaire High School’s drama department; and daughter-in-law Kelly Jones.

To earn one of the 12 open spots in the munchkins ensemble group each dance student had to be a near perfect fit for a description of a specific performer, said Zeakes.

The young performers all admit to being excited at the prospect of dancing and acting with this legendary show, and only one or two said they are just a little bit nervous about it.

When asked who they each wanted to make sure got to see them perform in the show their pride in the adventure to come was evident, with family members getting the nod as being the most important faces each of the young dancers want to see in the audience when they are standing on that landmark stage.

The level of maturity the youngsters will be expected to display on the night of the show is nothing short of that expected from a young theater professional: know what to do and when, understand how to do it, and to remember what comes next.

Once the cast and crew all arrive in town, there will be a full dress rehearsal at the Capitol on the day of the performance. They will also be getting fitted on the morning of dress rehearsal for their costumes for that evening’s performance.

“At this rehearsal each of the local dancers will meet the adult munchkin -a veteran cast member – they will be partnered with during the performance,” said Zeakes, a tactic she supports wholeheartedly.

No stranger to working with professional touring companies Zeakes and her staff – largely family members who have long been part of the teaching staff at the well-known school – had to be willing to tackle and to comply with detailed guidelines, rules, regulations and instructions in a somewhat ominous looking package of instructions to guide them smoothly through the entire once in a life time experience for these girls.

To help with the preparation for the acting end of the commitment Bellaire High School Drama Teacher Ed Street was asked to join the project.

“Wizard of Oz was my first musical to put on after joining the faculty at Bellaire High School. This show holds a lot of good memories for me. It is a fun show to work on and the kids have really been working hard to prepare for the show,” shared Street.

Students at the Center annually prepare to take to the stage at the Capitol Music Hall to share their recital performances with family and friends, a process that involves two nights of full out performances.

Zeakes has been the master coordinator of her school’s recital performances for more than 50 years, nearly all of which have been held at the Capitol.

Zeakes has seldom been seen more than a few feet from her students during such events, wanting to help make sure every detail has been attended to so they do not have to worry about anything other than dancing and acting.

That will change drastically when The Wizard of Oz arrives in the valley.

Complying with directions from the touring company, when the curtain goes up on show night Zeakes will find herself in very unfamiliar territory: not back stage or at the side of the stage – but out front with the rest of the audience.

However, as two of her grandchildren have been shouldering duties tied to preparing the munchkins for the performance she will be able to sit back and enjoy the show while celebrating the hard work invested in the effort by her granddaughters Liza Jones, head choreographer and her sister Taylor Jones, assistant. Both young women attend Buckeye Local High School where one is a feature twirler and the other a cheerleader.

The Wizard of Oz performance at The Capitol Music Hall is Tuesday, March 8. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m.

Loccisano may be reached at