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R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : The Yellow Brick Road to La Mirada : Students from the Blind Children’s Learning Center are treated to a pre-show visit with Cathy Rigby and the ‘Oz’ cast.

“The Wizard of Oz” has always had special meaning for the Blind Children’s Learning Center of Orange County. A small yellow brick road winds through the Santa Ana preschool, and the road to Oz has been used to illustrate school literature.

So when school officials heard that La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada was staging a production of “Oz” starring former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby, they knew what to do. They called the theater and arranged for the students to visit.

About 20 students from the center, joined by 200 family members and center supporters, attended opening night of “The Wizard of Oz” on Friday and met with Dorothy, Toto and other cast members to better experience the show. Center supporters paid $75 each to attend, and the price of their tickets (together with a discount from the show’s producers, McCoy/Rigby Entertainment) allowed the students and their families to attend for free.

They’re Off to See the Wizard

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Although the children couldn’t see Dorothy or her ruby-red slippers, they knew the story well and could match the voices to the characters.

“The children have varying degrees of blindness, but even those who are completely blind get something out of this show just from hearing it and from the ambience,” said David Barr, chairman of the center’s board who is also visually impaired.

To help the students enjoy the show, Rigby and Molly, the Yorkshire terrier that plays Toto, met with them before going on stage. The children gathered around Rigby while she held Molly.

“Would you like to pet Toto? He’s very nice,” she said to a small blond girl.

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Later, Rigby and a dozen Munchkins sang “We’re Off to See the Wizard” with the children.

Three-year-old Sarah Brazer of Garden Grove was so awed after meeting Dorothy she couldn’t utter a sound.

“She’s real excited. She doesn’t see much, so it’s different for her,” said her father, Paul.

“She started going to the center when she was 5 months old. She’s come so far,” said her mother, Jennifer.

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From Balance Beam to Stage

For Rigby, who has been working in theater since 1981 and received a 1989 Tony nomination for her role as Peter Pan, playing a well-loved character like Dorothy poses a challenge.

“ ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is shown every year on TV. You almost sense that people are saying the lines with you,” Rigby said.

“The challenge is not to sound like Judy Garland because you do hear her voice in your head.”

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To play Dorothy, Rigby sported the pigtails she wore as a 15-year-old, when she earned the highest U.S. scores in gymnastics at the 1968 Olympics of Mexico City. She was also the first American woman to win a medal in the World Gymnastics competition in 1970 and holds 12 international medals, eight of them gold. Today she is the mother of four children, ages 9 to 19, and she and her husband, Tom McCoy, are executive producers of the Broadway Series at the La Mirada Theatre. The family lives in La Habra Heights.

To Rigby, the Tony nomination was as good as gold and a turning point in her career: “It was like the Olympics of theater. People said, ‘She’s not just a gymnast.’ ”

The Blind Children’s Learning Center offers a preschool for blind students and children with normal vision, ages 6 months to 6 years, an in-home program for parents of visually impaired and blind infants, and an outreach program for center graduates that visits students at their schools and teaches them Braille, orientation and mobility.

“We try to be as holistic as we can,” said Gabrielle Hass, center president.

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Others attending were event chairwoman Jill Pletcher, Keith and Liz Gregory, Mark and Jaci Hardison, Linn Morgan and Brian Wachs.


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