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"The Wiz" an Eastmoor tradition
For Eastmoor Academy High School students, faculty and graduates, there's no place like home, especially when it's time to stage "The Wiz."
Messenger photos by John Matuszak
The Cowardly Lion (Darryl Wood), The Tin Man (Desmond Madry), the Scarecrow (Kari Hunter) and Dorothy (Keisha Lige-Steele) are all looking for something from "The Wiz" (Darren Milner) in Eastmoor Academy's production of the musical running Feb. 28-March 2. The show has been a tradition at Eastmoor since 2000, and is staged every four years.
The show has been presented every four years since 2000, inspiring the dreams of young hopefuls and drawing former performers and behind-the-scenes people to help out with the jazzy updating of L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."
This year's production will be presented Feb. 28-March 2.
"It's amazing to see the alumni coming back and cheering us on," commented Keisha Lige-Steele, who first saw the show as an eighth-grader and this year is taking on the role of Dorothy. "They make you feel like it's cool to be part of something this big."
Returning alumni include Mike Keck, a 2001 Eastmoor Academy graduate, acting as co-technical director, participating in his 21st show with director Seth Harms.
Matt Seward, who played the Tin Man in the 2000 production, is playing saxophone with the orchestra, joining retired band director David Colburn, his brother, Joe Colburn, and Brandon Chapman in the pit.
Dynesha Moore, who earned the "Heart and Soul" award for her performance in Eastmoor's "Beehive," is choreographing three numbers. The rest of the choreography is being overseen by Roslyn Dove, who has worked at Eastmoor Academy on "Grease" and "Once on This Island," and also choreographed "The Chocolate Nutcracker."
A friendly rivalry has sprung up between the different casts over which production is the best, according to Seth Harms, who is directing his third staging of "The Wiz."
Each staging has its own unique aspects. This year's cast of over 70 is almost twice as large as the previous production, allowing performers to specialize in dancing and other areas.
| "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." The Cowardly Lion tries to prove he's king of the jungle as he makes some new friends in "The Wiz."
This show also includes an additional musical number from the film version, "You Can't Win," performed by the Scarecrow.
The old and new cast members are always supportive of each other when it's time to step into the spotlight.
Finding inner strength and confidence is the message of the show, Harms offered. "It's about believing in yourself."
One cast member who believed in herself from the beginning is Kari Hunter. When she saw the show in eighth grade, she knew she wanted to play the Scarecrow, even though it is typically a male role.
Even a leg injury from a car accident couldn't keep her down for long.
"I like his discovery that he was smart all along," Hunter said of the Scarecrow.
Hunter and Lige-Steele, best friends offstage, are enjoying best being friends onstage, as well.
Everyone is pulling together, the young women offered.
"Everyone is talented, and is working to make their part the best," Lige-Steele said.
This updating of the fantasy classic for an African-American cast opened on Broadway in 1975, with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and a script by William Brown. It ran for four years and earned Tony awards for best musical and best score.
It was later made into a movie with Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow (although much of the original script was discarded).
The play follows the familiar story of the Kansas farm girl who gets swept up by a cyclone (in this case, a chorus of dancers) to the Land of Oz - but with definite urban beat and sensibility.
In fact, just about everybody and everything dances in this Oz, including the Yellow Brick Road.
Dorothy finds her three loyal friends to help her "Ease on Down the Road" to the Emerald City to meet the Wiz, while dodging the Wicked Witch, Evelline, battling the Kalidahs and receiving assistance from the Mouse Squad.
| Four friends in search of a heart, courage, a home and a brain never give up hope in "The Wiz."
The Munchkins are being played by students from area elementary schools, including Berwick and Scottwood, along with Harms' two children, Bryce and Jackson.
The show has been a springboard for emerging talents. Past Dorothys include Sharmaine Harris, now a professional singer and actress, and Alisa Mullins, part of the singing group Sweet Dreams.
And somewhere in the audience will be stagestruck kids who will start dreaming of their turn to "Ease on Down the Road."
"The Wiz" will be staged Feb. 28 -29, and March 1 at 7:30 p.m., and March 2 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students and children and $7 for adults. Eastmoor Academy is located at 417 S. Weyant Ave. and ticket reservations can be placed by calling 365-6158.
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