It was the first step on the Yellow Brick Road.
"It was, like, oh, oh, oh my gosh," said Lexi Watts, 13.
"Remember? I cried," said Courtney Brewer, 11.
"We were just jumping up and down and screaming," said Kurtis Browne, 11.
Yes, being a munchkin in a professional production of The Wizard of Oz is worthy of a good, high-pitched squeal. And when the news was announced a few weeks ago that a dozen students at Lexington's Diana Evans School of Dance would be on stage and in costume when Dorothy and company comes to the Lexington Opera House Nov. 6 to 8, there was pandemonium.
"All I heard for like five minutes was screaming," Lexi said.
Five local dance troupes were invited to audition, dance instructor Diana Evans said. Each child needed to be able to sing, dance, act and, most important, be less than five feet tall and weigh less than 100 pounds to be able to fit into the costume.
Local children have been cast since the production began touring last September, munchkin coordinator Kim Reiter said. (And, yes, that's her official title.)
"It's a really wonderful way to reach out to the community," said Reiter, who came to Lexington to pick the pint-sized cast. "It's also a continuing-education kind of thing. It provides them with a really neat opportunity to meet with professionals and see how it is all done."
One of the things that made the Diana Evans troupe stand out, she said, was how well they took direction.
Although munchkins are generally pretty chipper little people, this is a serious production with an elaborate stage setup, complete with people flying on wires and pyrotechnics exploding on stage.
Evans received a 75-page blocking book that highlights the precise position of all the actors during every minute on stage. She also was provided a sort of a "how to be a munchkin" DVD.
It included "a whole section about how to act around Toto," she said. Like any true star, the pup can't be disturbed during rehearsal or production but will accept love and gifts after the final curtain.
At a recent rehearsal, with all the peppy participants adorned in matching green tees provided by the production company, one thing became clear: Munchkins are expressive, soulful creatures. Even if you're standing still, your eyes should dance, and when assuming the "proud munchkin" position, it is hands on hips, head held high and toes pointed outward to fully emphasize your curly-toed shoes.
"You need to be ready to always engage with each other," Reiter said.
Each child is paired with an adult performer, and each has this in common, Reiter said: "This is not their first time on stage. They are experienced at this, even at a young age."
"Lately, I've really been working on my vocals," said Lexi, a Beaumont Middle School student who has been dancing for years. She's hoping, she said, that she can become a true "triple threat," meaning someone who can act, sing and dance. It's what she wants to do as a career.
The troupe will perform not only as munchkins but as winkies, the Wicked Witch's storm troopers.
All together, they are involved in five scenes.
That means that these students, who are already taking serious dance classes, are squeezing in additional practice in order to travel to Oz.
That can be a challenge, said Pam McGary, whose daughter Anna, 11, is a munchkin. But it's worth it, McGary said: "She's so excited. It's a great opportunity to be part of a professional production."
"I wish more productions that came through would use local talent," said Jennifer Corena, whose daughter, Camille, 10, is in the cast. "There is so much talent around here."