2 min

Off to see the Wizard

Competing to be the next Toto

THE NEXT BIG STAR. The Wizard of Oz's next Toto — 210 the schnoodle — looks right at home in Dorothy's arms. Credit: Krishna Rau

Not even the promise of a part in the Wizard of Oz could bring gay men and their little dogs out to auditions in Toronto.

Fallen Rock Productions —  which is staging the Wizard of Oz at the Isabel Bader Theatre from Wed, Feb 18 to 22 —  held auditions for the key and iconic role of Dorothy’s faithful dog Toto on Feb 2.

About 15 little pooches and their owners showed up at the Distillery District to try out for the coveted role. But despite the presence of Dorothy herself —  there to interact with the dogs —  and the countless miniature dogs in the gay village, apparently none of those owners was actually her friend.

Dorothy herself was aware of the queer significance of the part.

“I’m in musical theatre so most of my friends are part of that community,” said Jennifer Walls. “I love Liza. I love impersonating her. There is a bit of pressure playing a part that was originated by Judy Garland. I’m aware of the hallowed role she plays in the community. Hopefully I can channel her on stage.”

The dogs themselves didn’t appear to share her reverence for the production. Most preferred to sample the many dog biscuits available or to sniff their fellow contestants’ butts. Only a few were willing to sit in Dorothy’s basket and most apparently had not grasped the basics of sitting and staying or speaking on command.

While several of the dogs were actual Cairn terriers —  like the original Toto —  some of the canine contestants looked nothing like the part.

Mabel, a springer spaniel, bears no resemblance to the classic Toto. But owner Chris McDowall said she was born to be on stage.

“Mabel’s such a ham, I thought what the heck,” he said. “She’s a method actor. She may not look like a terrier but the other dogs don’t have a chance.”

Unfortunately in the end Mabel failed to make the cut. As did Tasha, a cockapoo belonging to Allen Kaeja, the director of the Kaeja D-dance company. Kaeja said Tasha was invited because they know Walls personally —  proving that in show business lesson it’s all about who you know.

“It’s a fun thing,” said Kaeja. “We have a dance company so we’re in the field. This way we’d be a full performing family.”

The eventual winner, the oddly-named schnoodle 210, had no such show biz connections.

“A family friend suggested we bring him,” said owner Cliff Etkins. “We were just playing around. He’s been locked up inside through all this weather. We thought we’d bring him out, meet some other dogs. My kids are going to be ecstatic.”

Etkins said he’s seen the film, although he’s certainly not a fanatic.

“My fiancée is,” he said, “but everybody’s a fan of the Wizard of Oz.”

That, says artistic director Jason Spetter, is ultimately the point of the production. Not only will it raise money for the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario, but it’s a play that appeals to everyone.

“This show is about accepting everybody, whether it be kids or grandparents or people of any sexual orientation,” he says. “One of the themes of the show is accepting.”

It will also be about making a star of little 210.

“It’s one of the few movie dogs that resonates with people,” says Spetter.