By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — This isn’t Kansas, Dorothy. You’re far from it. But, as locals like to say during KidsFEST, there’s no place like Haverhill to call home.
Thousands of people from Haverhill and neighboring communities are expected to pack the upper level of the Merrimack Street parking deck Sunday for the city’s annual festival for children.
With this year’s “Wizard of Oz’’ theme, costumed actors will perform the roles of the beloved story’s characters.
The event will also feature an appearance by the story’s central character, Dorothy. No, she won’t be dropping in via tornado. She’ll be here at the invitation of KidsFEST organizers.
She is Elaine Horn, an actress with a strong resemblance to Dorothy. Horn makes appearances as Dorothy across the country.
Besides the festival’s traditional children’s games and other activities, the event will feature items such as locally-made ruby red slippers made by a KidsFEST organizer. It is an appropriate touch, given Haverhill’s heritage as an international leader in the making of women’s shoes. In fact, because of that success Haverhill was once known as the “Queen Slipper City.’’
“This is one of the premier downtown events and the chamber is really pleased to be the producer of the event,’’ said Sven Amirian, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce.
“It is the beginning of the outdoor festival series,’’ he said of popular Haverhill events that happen annually during the spring, summer and fall. “People really look forward to it.’’
Amirian said organizers expect 4,000 to 5,000 people to visit the festival during its hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
He said the decision to use the Oz theme will be “especially exciting, bring another level of enthusiasm to the event.’’
Besides Dorothy and other characters from “The Wizard of Oz,’’ the festival will have a yellow brick road leading children through the festival vendors and performers, eventually winding up at the main stage, said Jen Cantwell, vice president of the chamber.
Children are encouraged to dress up as Munchkins from the land of Oz or dress their dolls as Munchkins for a parade that is an annual highlight of the festival, Cantwell said. There will also be a poppy field, where children can make flowers, and a ReMax hot air balloon, which kids can have their photos taken with. In a scene late in the movie, the wizard leaves Oz in a hot air balloon.
“It brings new life to the event,’’ Cantwell said of the Oz theme.
The festival will have 60 booths featuring food and retail vendors and various local organizations, a ruby slippers scavenger hunt, magic and science shows, Emerald City play dough stations, Haverhill Junior and Senior Idol singing competitions, pony rides, bouncy houses, reptile interactions, wrestling performances and interactive bongo drumming.
Here is the festival schedule:
10:45 a.m.: Munchkin Parade lineup
11 a.m.: Opening ceremonies
11:15 a.m.: Mad Science, Fire & Ice
Noon: Pie eating contests
12:15 p.m.: Haverhill Junior Idol singing contest
1 p.m.: Musical chairs contest
1:20 p.m.: YMCA Wizard of Oz show
2:05 p.m.: Pie eating contests
2:25 p.m.: DeAngelis School of Music presentation
3:20 p.m.: Haverhill Senior Idol singing contest
4 p.m.: Festival ends
The premier sponsors of the festival are Merrimack Valley Hospital and Trinity EMS. The major sponsor is Pentucket Medical Associates.
IF YOU GO :What: Haverhill's annual KidsFEST When: Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Where: Upper level of the Merrimack Street parking deck Admission: Free Rain date: Sunday, May 19