FALMOUTH – “The dog’s name is Toto and he flew in on a Lear Jet.”
That’s the response of John Paul, one half of the Falmouth couple who are co-producing the Falmouth Theatre Guild’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” to a reporter’s queries about a certain canine.
But the story of how a 7.5-pound Yorkshire terrier named Toto took on the namesake role in this community theater production of “Oz” is a tad more complicated.
Katy Paul, who is John Paul’s wife and co-producer of the show, said they posted their search for the perfect Toto on the guild’s website and it was mentioned in the local newspaper.
But they saw only two dogs–a brown and white Shih Tzu puppy named Oakley, and a white Jack Russell terrier named Tessie–and neither were quite right for the part. The owner of a white Bichon Frise wanted her dog to be considered. They met a third little dog, a brown terrier, that they liked but the owner was intimidated with the rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule and declined, she said.
“Several people told us about dogs and sent photos about dogs, but we were choosy about appearance and disposition,” Katy Paul said.
She said that as the days ticked by and no perfect Toto appeared, there were concerns.
“You can’t have Oz without Toto. The dog was a high priority,” she said.
The dog that was found to fill the role is actually owned by the parents of Jason Hansen, who plays the Tin Man in the show.
Three of Hansen’s four children, Aspen, Joel and Charlotte are all in the show too.
Hansen said he knew director Joan Baird of Mashpee really needed to find a Toto. “I thought, ‘I know of a Yorkshire terrier who is named Toto.”
He did not suggest the dog because the dog lives in Maryland.
“I never thought Joan would want to go get him,” Hansen said.
He was wrong.
Katy Paul said Toto is the ideal Toto. “His disposition is great. He’s older and knows general commands. He’s small and easy to scoop up and carry when needed,” she said.
She said the director has said more than once she wishes she had adopted a dog a year ago to train him for the role. But by the way she cradles Toto, it’s clear she feels she found the right dog.
The big challenge was how to get Toto from Maryland to Cape Cod, without the help of a “twister.”
Enter Tom Hoke, the stage manager.
Hoke said he had been working closely with Joan Baird’s husband, Brett Baird, to build the sets for “Oz.” Hoke overheard Brett Baird say he was planning to go to Baltimore to pick up a dog for the show.
“I offered to go since I’m retired and he’s extremely busy with his job and finalizing the sets,” Hoke said.
Joan Baird booked Hoke’s ticket and Operation Toto had begun.
Hoke is no stranger to dogs. When his children were growing up, they had a West Highland terrier name Sneezer. “I taught him how not to bark. He would just ‘woof’ around the house under his breath,” Hoke said.
Before flying down to get Toto, Hoke spoke with the dog’s owners, Linda and Brian Hansen of Baltimore. The dog had flown before and Hoke used to fly often for work, so he felt a one-day turnaround would be no problem.
The day of the trip, Thursday, October 23, was a rainy, stormy day. Hoke left for Logan Airport at 5:15 a.m.
“Traffic into and out of Boston was absolutely miserable,” he said.
But soon he was aboard the Jet Blue flight to Baltimore.
“I had a short flight, met Linda, Brian and Toto, ate a Maryland crab cake, and flew back to Boston after a three-hour layover,” he said.
Hoke said he had a good first impression of the dog. “Very friendly and sweet. He licked me up one side of the face and back down the other,” he said.
Toto was a quiet traveler for the most part. “Occasionally he whined and I just stuck my hand into the carrier so he would know I was near,” Hoke said.
The dog was delivered to the Tin Man—Jason Hansen’s family—by about 6 p.m. that night.
Hansen said the dog was originally purchased by his sister who gave the dog as a gift to his late grandmother.
“Because he looked so much like the dog from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ and my grandmother’s name was Dorothy, she named him ‘Toto,’” he said.
Toto lived with Hansen’s grandmother for 10 years until she passed away and the dog was adopted by Hansen’s parents, “where he is pampered, loved and walked five miles a day.”
Hansen said when he called his mother to ask if they could borrow the dog for the show, she was skeptical.
“She didn’t believe me at first. It was a long way to go to get a dog,” he said. He convinced her that they were serious, and she got excited that Toto would get to perform with her son and grandchildren.
Toto’s owners will be in the audience opening weekend to see their dog’s performance, as well as performances by their son and grandchildren.
In the Hansen household, Toto is making himself at home.
“At night he goes around to everyone’s room and checks on them,” Hansen said.
Hansen’s sons, who are boy scouts, have decided to work on Dog Care merit badges while they have Toto as a houseguest.
Hansen’s oldest son, Aspen, has taken on the role of dog wrangler backstage at “Oz” and at night, the dog curls up on Aspen’s bed.
“They’ve formed a strong bond,” Hansen said.
Hansen’s wife Meg, who has her hands full with the couple’s five-month-old baby, said the children have been asking for years for a dog.
So Toto is sort of a test run.
“So far they have done great taking him for walks and making sure he is fed,” Hansen said.
Meanwhile, Toto has adjusted well to life backstage, Hansen said. “When there are not a lot of people running around, he likes to explore the theater.”
The Falmouth Theatre Guild’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” open November 7 at Highfield Theater in Falmouth. Tickets can be purchased at www.falmouththeatreguild.org.
– Please like us on Facebook.
– Laura M. Reckford