KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is something about Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre that captures the imagination.

It is a magical place, with tall towering structures on either side of the theatre, almost like castles out of Harry Potter.

Ella Grayham, an 11-year-old from Paola, was caught with the bug to perform on the stage, ever since seeing a performance of the Little Mermaid with her dance team from Paola School of Dance.

Her dance team came back to Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre to see Ella on June 10, opening night for The Wizard of Oz.

Ella was one of more than 250 children to try out for the play and was one of just 50 chosen to be Munchkins in the The 80th Anniversary production of the Wizard of Oz.

The original film, set in Kansas, featured silver screen legends like Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bolger (Scarcrow), Jack Haley (Tin Man), Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion), Billie Burke (Glinda), Margret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz).

The week-long production of The Wizard of Oz at the Starlight Theatre concluded June 16 and ended with a cast party celebration.

“Dancing at Starlight was a dream come true,” Ella said. “I have wanted to dance on that stage ever since I went to see The Little Mermaid with my dance team 2 years ago.

“I told my Mom that night that I wanted to dance there one day and here I am living my dream,” she said. “To be able to be dancing in such a classic musical like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ makes it even better. I was honored to take the stage with such talented performers every night and I made so many great friends, amazing memories and I learned so much.”

Rehearsals for similar productions can take a month or more. The crew for The Wizard of Oz had little more than a week.

The schedule made for some long hours, Ella said.

“We only had 10 days of rehearsals before opening the show, so it was a lot of hard work, long days and late nights,” Ella said. “It was worth it to get to perform in front of such big crowds every night.”

There was nothing like opening night, Ella said.

The Paola School of Dance was there in force to cheer on one of their own.

“My absolute favorite night was opening night,” Ella said. “I dance on the competition team at Paola School of Dance and 107 of my fellow team members, their families and friends along with my competition team director Hannah Hasselquist and studio owner Christine Kaempfe were there to support me. My dance family is amazing.

“I had all kinds of friends and family come to the show,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I had people from Paola there every night, I am so thankful to have so many people in this community come out and support me. Paola’s a pretty great place.”

During the show’s week-long run, Ella had little time for eating and sleeping following her production demands.

“The show ran for 7 nights and was pretty exhausting,” she said. “Every night before going on stage the excitement was just the same as opening night. I would get butterflies, not the nervous kind, just the excited kind.

“It was just so much fun to be up there in front of so many people doing what I love to do,” she said. “Even though doing the show for seven nights was exhausting, I was sad on the last night that it was over. I will definitely try out at Starlight again if given the opportunity, it was an amazing experience.”

Ella is the daughter of Aaron and Misty Grayham of Paola.

Sports Editor Gene Morris can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or gene.morris@miconews.com.

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