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This dog's a real ham

June 21, 1997

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

It wasn't a typical casting call Saturday afternoon at the Tres School for the Arts in Hagerstown.

The Escapade Theatre Company, the Tres School's production company, was looking for an actor who is obedient, of stable temperament, not aggressive or shy - and housebroken.

The audition was for the role of Toto in the company's upcoming production of "The Wizard of Oz" and Gidget, a 2-year-old terrier mix from the Washington County SPCA, seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

When Gidget, the only dog who auditioned, scurried into the room she immediately showed that star quality, effusively greeting the director, the leading lady and the press.

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Director William E. Morris said he was looking for a terrier-type Toto that was "preferably not high strung," small enough for Dorothy to carry around in her arms and not afraid of heights for when one of the Wicked Witch's flying monkeys plucks the pair off the ground for a flight to the castle.

The dog also must like to eat hot dogs, since Toto is called upon to steal one as it roasts over a fire in one scene, said Niki Perini, of Hagerstown, who will play the part of Dorothy.

Perini, a graduate student in vocal performance at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va, jokes that at 25 she is a "middle-aged Dorothy."

She said she loves dogs but they make her sneeze and break out in hives.

So she will depend on an allergist's help to get her through the play, she said.

Gidget had to pass a "howling test," to make sure she wouldn't feel tempted to join in while Perini sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Gidget handled it like a pro, merely perking up her ears and licking Perini's face while she sang.

So that they will form a bond Perini will be the only one in the cast of more than 85 people allowed to feed and pet Toto, which may frustrate some of the 37 Munchkins, played by children, Morris said.

Gidget's rise to fame is a typical rags-to-bones tale. She was picked up as a stray by the SPCA, according to Animal Control Supervisor and Stage Mother Keller Haden.

When Gidget takes her bow at the end of the play she will be looking for a new role as someone's house pet, Haden said.

Two years ago a dog from the Pet Hotline Shelter of St. Francis played Sandy in Escapade Theatre Company's production of "Annie" and landed a home with one of the orphans in the play, Morris said.

"The Wizard of Oz" will run from July 25 to July 27 at The Maryland Theatre.

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