AUBURN — Dorothy, it turned out, was leery of Toto.
Tiffany Warren hadn't thought ahead when she auditioned for — and won — the role of Dorothy in Community Little Theatre's upcoming production of "The Wiz." Between the lure of the lights and the challenge of the part, she forgot the whole dog thing.
Warren would not only have to share the stage with a furry, four-footed actor, but also cradle him in her arms and make people believe he was her very best friend. Not easy for a 30-year-old who was so uncomfortable around dogs that she wouldn't even pet her brother's Labrador retriever and boxer.
Then came Kale.
The 7-pound, perky-eared, happy-go-lucky Yorkshire terrier won the role of Toto in September and has been winning the hearts of "The Wiz" performers since. Including the wary Warren.
"There's a comfy spot for Kale," cooed his owner, Marissa Lussier, as she settled the pooch in Warren's arms before rehearsal Thursday. "It's like a happy purse. He's a happy accessory."
Warren looked pretty pleased herself.
"We'll be good," she said. "We're going to be spending some time together."
"The Wiz" is 2-year-old Kale's first acting gig. Lussier has been involved in theater for a while, but she never thought about getting her dog on stage until the Toto auditions came up. Her expectations weren't high. Kale was adorable, friendly and smart, sure, but so were the dozen other dogs — and one cat — that tried out. And Kale couldn't play dead like Cooper, the Jack Russell terrier.
"I was like, 'Nope. Done. How could you beat that?'" she said.
But it was Kale's name that was called at the end. Lussier scooped him up in a hug as the audition's audience burst into applause. He would be Toto.
Since that day about a month ago, Kale has attended rehearsals, sniffing and scampering among the feet of the dozens of children who will play munchkins — to their delight. He's learned how to bow, front paws down and stubby tail in the air. He's getting to know Warren.
Though one early rehearsal didn't go quite as planned. By the end, Kale was pulling on his leash to get off the stage.
"He wasn't used to me and I wasn't used to him," Warren said. "I couldn't remember my lines because he was right there. And he wanted his mom."
The two have spent more time together since then. And for extra bonding: a trip to the dog park.
It's all paying off.
"He does have me petting my brother's dogs now," Warren said.
During Thursday's rehersal's, Kale's biggest issue wasn't staying in Warren's arms. It was dashing across the stage on cue without stopping to sniff the stage hands, greeting one of the young dancers waiting in the wings or turning tail and heading back the way he came.
With Lussier's patience, a full supply of peanut butter dog treats and three weeks left until the Nov. 2 opening night, he's working on it.
But whether Kale perfects his part or not, Lussier thinks he's perfect.
"He's my little baby," Lussier said. "He's my star."
Have an idea for Animal Tales? Contact Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email@example.com.