A young Lauren Dong (in the blue and green) as a munchkin in a community theatre production of The Wizard of OZ.
Four-year-old Lauren's first pair of Ruby Slippers.
Lauren Dong is one of 34 Theatre Conservatory students cast in the Summer Players’ production, The Wizard of Oz (Aug. 10-18, Julianne Argyros Stage). She portrays Dorothy Gale. Lauren, who is entering her senior year in high school, has been taking acting classes at SCR for eight years, since fourth grade. Donning Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and singing classic songs like “Over the Rainbow” have been part of a long-held dream for Lauren. In this blog article, she and her mom, Alyssa, talk about the path to this iconic role.
Lauren Dong started acting and singing at seven years old at a local community theatre, her mom, Alyssa Dong, says. She even performed in a production of The Wizard of Oz—but not as Dorothy.
“She quickly developed a love for it, and I started noticing she could sing,” says Alyssa.
Lauren studied with different vocal coaches and, at age nine, was introduced to the song “Over the Rainbow” by one of her former vocal coaches who taught Lauren how to sing it. Lauren quickly became interested in seeing the movie and watching Judy Garland sing “Over the Rainbow.”
The movie wowed her, Lauren says, “It stood out just because of the colors alone. And it struck a chord with me because of the unique story it told. There was something really magical about seeing the Emerald City for the first time and watching that horse change colors throughout the song. I thought ‘how are they doing that?’ ”
But the most significant takeaway for Lauren was watching Judy Garland "sing the beloved ballad with a voice that was very mature for her age; Garland was only a teenager when she filmed The Wizard of Oz" in 1939. Lauren had started classical vocal training at the age of nine.
Alyssa says that Lauren has always had a special place in her heart for "Over the Rainbow," even as she continued her vocal lessons through the years.
“Here was a young girl who was kind of like me,” Lauren says. She has had the movie poster hanging on the back of her bedroom door since she bought it during a trip to Hollywood at the age of 10. “It was a film I absolutely found charming and that was very dear to my heart.”
She recently re-watched the video of her childhood performance.
“A part of me thought ‘yikes, my voice was pitchy,’ but I found myself smiling by the end of the video,” she says. “I don’t give myself a lot of credit for the things I do, but I think looking back on that day I can now say I was proud of myself for getting up there, even though it wasn’t perfect. I loved singing that song no matter how it sounded and still do.”
Alyssa and Lauren never thought the dream role—to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz—would happen.
"She feels so honored to be cast in the part for the Summer Players’ 2019 production at SCR,” Alyssa says.
After watching the MGM movie again and getting into L. Frank Baum's novel, Lauren stripped away all previous versions of Dorothy, to create an original character. Lauren says the most important word she’d use to describe Dorothy is “curious.”
“She is a young woman seeking adventure and something greater than herself,” she says. “Throughout the story, she never ceases to display both her ambition and kindness. Eventually, she realizes that she has always had everything she needed and wanted right at home and, of course, that ‘there’s no place like home’."
For Lauren, Dorothy is ultimately a symbol for dreams and imagination, yet a reminder that no matter how simple it may be, happiness is enough.
Alyssa will be among the audience members to cheer Lauren—and the rest of the cast—on during performances in August.
Learn more about The Wizard of Oz and buy tickets.