“The Wiz” cast and directors prepare to take the stage

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Townsend Harris High School’s newest play, The Wiz, will make its debut on Friday, April 12. The cast is immersing themselves in their characters and forging connections among each other to create a successful show.

  The Wiz is a modern take on The Wizard of Oz. It centers on Dorothy, who lives in Kansas and is whisked away to the land of Oz. On her journey to return home, she meets characters that change her life.

The show was selected based on a number of factors, including its content and the wide variety of talent at our school. English teacher and co-director Ryan Dunbar said, “If you look across the show, a lot of students are going to be featured, in terms of their singing, in terms of their dancing, and I think it opened a lot of doors for students.”

The main cast features junior Ashley Facey as Dorothy, senior Matthew Cabrera as The Wiz, senior Aleksandre de Jesus as the Scarecrow, junior Lucas Ayala as the Tinman, junior Luis Roman as the Cowardly Lion, junior Ayanna Fontaine as Addaperle, and junior Khiara Richards as Evilene. In addition to these actors, there is a large ensemble cast that holds immense importance to the show.

 The audition process for the show ensured that students could show their range of talent. There were group and dance auditions, followed by monologue and singing auditions the next day.  Khiara said, “The casting process was very stressful because there are so many talented people in Townsend and I was originally looking to audition for a smaller role, so it was even more intimidating when I decided to audition for the Wicked Witch.”

The musical had over 60 hopeful actors audition for a role in this production. “I wanted to be involved in this production because I adore musical theater. The fact that we’re doing The Wiz, which is closely connected to African American culture, gave me even more of a reason to participate,” said Ashley.

The directors modernized the 70’s musical to capture the social norms of today’s audience and student body. Everybody is bringing something new to the production by putting their own twists and personality into their characters. Mr. Dunbar said, “I really like the style we’ve been working with, which is we let the students make choices in their roles, and when we like what they are doing, we try to emphasize that.”

Musical Director Richard Louis-Pierre elaborated, “It’s written [in the script] not to do what’s on the page. You sing the song in the way that fits you, as opposed to you trying to fit the song.”

Despite difficulty with scheduling due to FON, the cast has been effective in doing what needs to be done. Mr. Pierre said, “It’s their dedication that makes it work…[English teacher and co-director] Kevin Schwab is fantastic at scheduling, and putting a group together that can accomplish a lot of work, in very little time.”

The cast has been playing their roles for months, and have noticed similarities between them and their characters. Ayanna said, “I felt it would be best to go for someone I could relate to and let it come naturally. Addaperle is a very movie star-like character with a sassy personality and, hopefully, I can portray it on stage.” In addition to Ayanna finding her character within herself, the casting directors noticed similarities between the cast and their characters too. English Teacher and co-director Kevin Schwab said, “Since Ashley [as Dorothy] is turning to this world of Oz and is questioning everything going on around her, it’s wonderful to have her in the rehearsal process asking,‘Does this work?’, ‘Is this funny?’, ‘Can I make this choice?’”

The roles in the musical have many components that can create challenges while trying to fulfill them. Ashley said, “The greatest challenge [is] figuring out relationship dynamics with all the other characters in the show and figuring out the best way to show how these relationships develop.”

Lucas said, “My greatest challenge in fulfilling my role as the Tin Man is being a larger than life character. He’s a funny and vibrant character and it’s a challenge to embody it.”

An integral part of any production is the relationship among the cast. Their connections bring a show to life and show onstage. Through the extensive rehearsals, the cast and crew has become a family.  Ayanna said, “We really care for each other and as time gets closer to the day of the show, we really start to bond a lot more and it helps with our performance because we aren’t just acting.”

Although the musical has been modernized, the cast has not forgotten its own roots, which are embedded in inclusivity. Luis said, “I thought it was really important to maintain the structure [of the original play] because I really want us to give hope in the next generation like those actors gave us. For colored people to have hope that we can all do it together, whether you are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ or transgender…and put on a show where we can inspire all people.”

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