In a shiny building off Guilford Road in Jessup, the Lollipop Kids sing and a tutu-clad Lullaby League prances just across the way from loading docks and supply warehouses.

Munchkins, witches and a picnic basket-toting girl and her dog are regulars there since the Children's Drama Learning Center began rehearsals for "The Wizard of Oz" several weeks ago. After years without a home, the local drama troupe moved to the building in September, bringing with it lights, cameras and hatchling thespians.

They include Gabrielle Federline, a Worthington Elementary kindergartner who dusts her hair with baby powder and dons a schoolmarm dress and black lace-up granny shoes to become Dorothy's kindly Aunt Em, and Eric Fooksman, a charming Uncle Henry in an oversized flannel shirt and cowboy boots. The Wicked Witch of the West is played by Lindsey Startt, a third-grader at Clarksville Elementary School.

"When I put on my costume, I feel like the wicked witch, because I have all these black clothes on," Startt said. "I like the experience."

The drama group, which includes children from preschool to high school, was founded in 1985 by Sonny Lerner, an assistant principal at Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood. Lerner says the group originated as a way of illustrating social studies lessons.

"When I used to teach fifth grade {at Lisbon Elementary School}, we would do a play as a culminating activity," Lerner said. "Costume, music, the whole bit. Like 'Oklahoma,' " for example.

The plays proved so popular that Lerner formed the group with 26 students in 1985. About 1,000 county students now are enrolled in courses and productions run by the center, Lerner said.

The group's current play had a few complications. Director Cheryl Ramsey went into labor a little over a week ago, forcing her assistant to take over. And very young actors can present special problems. A girl who forgot to bring her script to a rehearsal told Ramsey it didn't matter "because I can't read."

The group will perform the play at 6 tonight at the center, at 10620 Guilford Rd. in Jessup.