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It’s a dance audition, sure, but Music Circus choreographer Bob Richard makes his priorities clear. As he runs a group of men through a dance combination from Oklahoma!, he exhorts them, “I don’t want to see dancers. I want to see cowboys who move exceptionally well. Yes, yes?”

“Yes, yes!” the dancers thunder back.

On a day this past March, more than 100 dancers did their best to move exceptionally well while vying for roles in the upcoming 54th season of Music Circus, a series of musicals produced by California Musical Theatre. This summer’s lineup includes Oklahoma!, The Fantasticks, The Pirates of Penzance, Footloose, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Wizard of Oz, the last of which opens the season July 6 at the Wells Fargo Pavilion.

 While each dancer was intensely scrutinized during the daylong audition, none suffered the withering criticism of a judge like Simon Cowell of “American Idol” fame. “Auditions aren’t an adversarial process,” says California Musical Theatre Artistic Director Scott Eckern. “You’re looking for talent and talent is exciting. You’re not looking to beat people down—the business will do that on its own.”

Last spring, Eckern saw more than 2,000 candidates across the country before he filled nearly 120 roles. “Sometimes you see someone who’s great, but the casting doesn’t fit—they’re too young or too short—whatever. But you remember them for next time.”