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One might say that the start of Random Lake's summer theatre program was May 24, 1994. On that date the electors of the School District of Random Lake approved a $2.29 million referendum (708-442) to build a new high school gym, remodel the old gym into an auditorium, and make other improvements.
The new gym and 466-seat auditorium were dedicated on Oct. 25, 1995. At the same time three high school seniors (Ryan Klug, Andy Ritger and Victor Schueller) brought forward their dream to start a summer theatre program in Random Lake. The trio had met while performing with the Holland Festival Theatre in Cedar Grove. They drew support from some key adults who formed the Random Lake Community Theatre in conjunction with the Ram Booster Club. They supported Klug, Ritger and Schueller as they got approvals from Random Lake's school administration and the school board.
For their first show the director trio chose the L. Frank Baum classic, The Wizard of Oz. There was no problem finding people to audition for parts, but such a familiar story has high expectations. It's difficult finding somebody in America who has never seen the movie. "Our production will try to walk and even dance on the fine line between being artistic, and retaining the special moments from the story that we all hold dear," wrote Klug in his director's notes.
Klug served as artistic director, Schueller as musical director and Ritger as technical director. Jodi Darrow and Sara Wolfert were the choreographers.
You can't tell the story of The Wizard of Oz without a tornado but one night was almost too realistic. Rehearsal was halted on Thurs., July 18, as the cast took shelter in school during a tornado warning. The same storm that destroyed part of the community of Oakfield, passed west of Random Lake, jumped over Fredonia, and damaged other properties in Ozaukee County.
Christina Bohnhoff played the role of Dorothy Gale, while Cherie Ramaker was Auntie Em and Michael Gartman portrayed Uncle Henry. And who could forget Nick Bowling as the Scarecrow, Larry Marcus as the Tinman, Mike Schueller as the Lion, and Peggy Strang as the Wicked Witch of the West? Bob Deyo made his stage debut as Professor Chester Marvel and the Wizard.
The full cast was 95+ and that host of multi-colored munchkins included a number of people who will hold major roles in future shows. Supported by an eight-member pit orchestra, conducted by Jeff Voeks, The Wizard of Oz turned out to be a great success. Young and old alike went "off to see the wizard" with four sold out performances.
As Ritger wrote in his director's notes, "We never imagined to be greeted with so much enthusiasm and energy... and the cast and crew are the ones who will make it all come alive." Summer theatre in Random Lake was off to a great start.