Curtain Never Rises On Children's Chance At Stardom
It was their shot at stardom. More than a 100 kids auditioned and planned to dance in a nationally touring production that was supposedly making a stop at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.
But consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus discovered the show isn't coming to town.
Producers claimed the show lost a key sponsor - leaving parents wondering if they'll ever see the money they paid for so their children could be in the show.
McKenzie Edwards, 9, thought it was a dream come true when she heard that a show called "Oz the Musical" was coming to Nashville and looking for kids to be munchkins. McKenzie's mom, Kimberlee, said, "When she heard there was an audition for a role as a munchkin, she lost her mind and said, 'Oh, yes, I have to do it.'"
Kimberlee said she checked out the show's web site, which claimed the director of Oz had been on Broadway in Oprah's "The Color Purple" and the star of the show was Diana DeGarmo, a former American Idol contestant.
"It all looks pretty legitimate, but it's not apparently," Kimberlee told NewsChannel 5.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered that show producers charged each family anywhere from $50 to $75 to perform in what they billed as an updated musical version of the "Wizard of Oz." After collecting the money from parents, the producers suddenly canceled the tour.
"I think it's bad business," said Jenny Belsito, owner of the Green Hills School of Dance.
Belsito had opened her studios to the company for auditions. "I thought it was legit," she said.
Looking back, Belsito said she realizes there were a lot of red flags. When McKenzie auditioned at the Nashville Convention Center, every child who tried out was accepted.
"I screamed...very, very loud," McKenzie recalled.
After making auditions, McKenzie's mom and all of the other parents were told they had to pay for costumes and to rent the rehearsal hall.
"We paid $75," Kimberlee said.
Come to find out later, dance studio owners told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that they'd already agreed to let Oz producers use their studios for free. So far as costumes, at least when the tour started, the munchkins in other cities simply wore t-shirts.
Show producers told some parents that the Nashville performances would be at the Grand Ol' Opry, while other parents were told the shows would be downtown.
"They said it would be performed at TPAC," Belsito remembered.
Both the Grand Ol' Opry and TPAC told NewsChannel 5 that the show was never booked at their theatres.
"We've told her friends, her teacher - had everybody excited for her. Grandma's excited for her," Kimberlee said.
Parents like Kimberlee said they started to worry when they hadn't heard anything from the company in weeks. Then just days before the scheduled show, producers finally contacted parents telling them in an email that the tour was canceled.
Todrick Hall, the show's writer and director, told NewsChannel 5 that they just didn't have enough money. He said the kids' performance fees were supposed to help cover the cost of the tour across the country.
"We got close to 3,000 kids to do the show, but that wasn't enough cause we have over a 100 shows. When you divide 3,000 kids by 100 shows, it's not enough kids to be able to pay - to help pay for the venues," Hall said.
Dance studio owners like Belsito said that's no way to run a show.
"I think they need to be held accountable," Belsito said.
"Shame on you for doing this, not only to my daughter, but to all of the other little children that auditioned and their parents," Kimberlee said.
Show producers said they are willing to refund the performance fees, but they also admitted that they ran out of money. The producers also said they're hoping parents will NOT ask for their money back, so they can instead roll it into a new show they claim to be working on with the same director.
Many dance studio owners also said that it's unusual for parents to have to pay for their kids to be in a show like "Oz the Musical." Parents should not be expected to pay for something that was billed as a national touring show. In fact, the dance studio owners told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that if anything, the kids should be receiving some sort of compensation.
Also, Diana DiGarmo, the former American Idol contestant and Nashville resident who was featured prominently on the show's Web site and promotional materials, said she was never a part of the national tour that was supposed make a stop in Music City.