In the dimly lit basement of Century II, little girls were dreaming big.
They sat, toes tapping, at plastic picnic tables Saturday waiting to audition for a place in Music Theatre of Wichita's upcoming productions.
Behind the doors of the audition room, Music Theatre artistic director Wayne Bryan, director Roger Castellano and others on the staff spoke kindly and smiled encouragingly, but kept an appraising eye on one group of young singers and dancers after another.
They were looking for "a certain spark," Bryan said — a good voice, a quick study of dance steps, an engaging stage presence.
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They will pick about 100 of the 200 or so teens and younger children who will audition this weekend.
The children and teens will fill a wide variety of background roles, with the most opportunity in "Annie" and "Gypsy." In "Annie," Bryan is also looking for teenage featured performers.
Music Theatre is putting on five shows this summer, with a new one starting every two weeks: "Gypsy," "Smokey Joe's Cafe," "Crazy for You," "Annie" and "Curtains."
Many of Saturday's auditioners, mostly girls, already had experience in local theater troupes or at school. But for them, Music Theatre is the big time.
"Last night my stomach was churning," said 11-year-old Sydney Dahlgren. The professional talent will come from auditions Bryan will hold next month in Wichita; Oklahoma City; Ann Arbor, Mich.; New York; Los Angeles; and Chicago. The young, unpaid, performers typically are local.
In one group, 10-year-old Louisa Nickel of Newton sang "Day by Day" from "Godspell" in a loud, clear voice.
"Excellent," said Castellano.
"Thanks to both of you," Bryan said to Louisa and to JoAnn Nickel, who had accompanied her granddaughter on piano.
Then Louisa and two other girls, led by Castellano, danced an energetic snippet of "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" from "Annie" to see how well they moved.
After finishing, Nickel explained why she auditioned:
"I enjoy performing, being in front of people," she said. "It's what I want to do with my life."
Auditions continue today, but the slots are filled. However, there may be more auditions next month. Go to www.mtwichita.org/auditions.cfm for information.
Picking the right people, whether children or adults, is important to a show's success, Bryan said.
"If you do this well, it all falls into place," he said. "If you do it badly, it will fill up a lot of time."