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The Wiz

With flash, pizzazz and a heart full of soul, Westfield High presents its Cappies show, "The Wiz," a takeoff on L. Frank Baum's "Wizard of Oz," in the school theater.

Showtimes are Friday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 1, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 2, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door or at www.westfieldtheatreboosters.com; call 703-488-6439.

And it's Westfield Theatre Director Scott Pafumi's favorite rendition of the classic story. "I am in love with the music, style, soul and Gospel feel implicit in this score," he said. "It speaks loudly of [Baum's originally intended theme], which is to find your true self through the reflection and support of those you meet in the journey of life."

SINCE THIS is Westfield Theatre's "season of diversity," Pafumi wanted to feature a show "that really kicked off our season strongly with the African-American spirit that is 'The Wiz.'" He also noted that hiring Bull Run Elementary's music teacher, Kelly Butler Noel, as the show's vocal director was "exactly what we needed, as she knows the show so well. She's been an amazing addition to our production team."

Furthermore, black students Jade Jones, Chris Wildy, Jessica Jordan and Martina Green have major roles. Said Pafumi: "They're really strong talents, and I wanted to feature them in a show that was a celebration of their heritage and pride."

Jones, 17, plays both Aunt Em and the wicked witch Evillene. She describes Aunt Em as kind of strict, but motherly and nurturing. "I based her on people in my family," said Jones. "I love playing her because I get to work with Martina and we've been friends for a long time. And it's like a mirror of our relationship: I got her into theater, and she looks up to me like Dorothy does to Aunt Em."

Evillene, however, is "nasty, disgusting, trashy — everything evil mixed into a big cauldron and mixed up," said Jones. "I think it's the most fun character in the play. I get to do pretty much what I want with her and improvise. I can be loud and semi-powerful, and I get to die on stage — finally — something I've always wanted to do."

She said the audience, especially children, will love the show because "it's fun, the music's great, the characters are very childish and it's like the soulful version of 'The Wizard of Oz' with better music."

Jones' favorite song is "No Bad News," sung as Evillene. "It's really funky and one of the most soulful, Gospel songs in the show," she explained. "My background is Gospel music, so it takes me back to my roots."

Junior Martina Green portrays Dorothy, who she describes as shy, courageous and friendly. Although it's Green's first play, she's in Show Choir, so she's definitely got the pipes to back up her performance. She enjoys her role because Dorothy's playful and "the story's about love, finding new friends and going through problems."

Her favorite numbers include the finale, "Home," and "Everybody Rejoice." Said Green: "When you sing 'Home,' the words give you an understanding of what Dorothy's been through and her life journey. 'Everybody Rejoice' is sung when Evillene is gone and everybody's happy and comes together and sings; it's about freedom."

Playing the scarecrow is Russell Wagoner, 15. "He's endearingly stupid, and everybody has those dumb moments, so he's easy to connect with," he said. "Toward the end, he gets more confident, but he's just fun and a ditz — a complete klutz."

Wagoner's also excited to have his first, main-stage lead. "The plot's largely based on African-American culture, and I like it more because it just exudes soul and spirit," he said. "I love the music; the songs have well-thought-out rhythms. And the sets, costumes and whole show will have such flash and energy."

HE ESPECIALLY likes the scarecrow's song, "I Was Born on the Day before Yesterday," because "it's so much fun to sing. The beginning — talking about his hard times — is bluesy, and that's my favorite kind of music to sing." He also likes "Home" because "Martina has the most amazing voice I've ever heard, so it's stunning when she sings it."

As the Tin Man, Chris Wildy, 17, moves stiffly, but has funny one-liners. "He's outgoing, energetic and happy," said Wildy. Even though he doesn't have a heart, he's hopeful he'll get one. And even if he didn't, things with him would be just fine."

Wildy loves playing his character; he wanted to be the Tin Man "so bad" because of the movie, "The Wiz." Said the senior: "I loved his 'Slide Some Oil to Me' song and the kind of dancing he did. I think he's the coolest character."

He said the "Oil" song means that he and Dorothy are giving the Tin Man life again. And he loves how Green sings the song, "Be a Lion." Wildy says the audience will be crazy about the entire show's songs and dances: "The dancing is amazing; Lindsay [Thomas] has done a great job choreographing the show. And there's so much humor in it, I have to try not to laugh and to stay in character."

Cody Jones, 17, portrays the Lion, who he calls "an absolute lover. All he wants to do is have a great time with the ladies. He tries to be a confident, ladies man but, whenever there's any opposition, he backs away. But then he puts it out of his mind so he can be the confident Lion again."

Jones said the Lion's fun to play because "he's like that really cool, bass player in the back of a jazz quartet saying, 'Hey, Baby, I know what you like.'" His favorite number is "He's the Wiz." Said Jones: "Sarah Cowdery sings it with a vocal quality that evokes musical goose bumps." He also likes "So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard" because of the bass part performed by the show's live pit band directed by Charlie Manship.

Jones says "The Wiz" eliminates "The Wizard of Oz's" flaws and "amplifies its good. In this version, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion have depth and real feelings and aren't caricatures; you can connect with them."

Garrett Henson, 18, plays the title role. "The Wiz is a charlatan/showman with a Las Vegas vibe about him," he said. "But he's kind of a poser because the whole showmanship thing is a front. He's really a nobody from Omaha, Neb."

It's fun to perform, said Henson, because "I get to play a dramatic character at the same time as the flashy character, so it's both sides of the spectrum." His favorite song is "So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard" because he sings it to Dorothy and the Munchkins and it's his entrance on stage. It's also a big, splashy number with showgirls so, said Henson, "It'll be super fun."

He said the show's message, "There's no place like home; home is where the heart is," really speaks to the entire audience, and attendees will enjoy the whole performance because "it's so much fun."

Playing Glinda (the good witch) is senior Brittany Martin. "She's a very angelic, perfect princess," said Martin. "But when her sister Addaperle, her opposite, is there, she gets spunky and edgy. I enjoy it; it's my type of character. She's fun to play and has more depth than the character in 'The Wizard of Oz.' And she takes care of Dorothy like she's her child."

MARTIN LIKES performing with the other lead characters, and she and Henson are the show's dance captains. "I've been choreographing the crows and helping Lindsay when she needs me," she explained. "I love her concept for the show. It's stylistic edge is African, but each part is different."

For example, said Martin, "The tornado dancers are modern contemporary, jazzy and low to the ground. The yellow brick road dancers are sassy, and the poppies are Bob Fosse-esque — stylized and controlled. But they're all under an African umbrella."

Her favorite song to listen to is Cowdery's version of "The Wiz" because "Sarah's so petite, but sings really low notes — not what you expect." Her favorite song to watch is the scarecrow's number. "The crows are the doo-wop, barbershop quartet behind him," she said. "And the four crows — Nick Cirillo, Jeremy Rommel, Taylor Aucott and Jon Goldsmith — are so talented, I really want them to win a Cappies nomination for best song or best ensemble."

As stage manager, Kalyna Jowyk takes blocking notes on the show and technical notes for the crew. She'll also call the lighting and set-moving cues for all the shows.

The hardest part, she said, is being second in charge of the cast and getting the actors to quiet down and listen to her during rehearsal "because they're all my friends." The best part is the challenge, but she's enjoying it.

Choreographer Lindsay Thomas, 18, worked with choreographer Yvonne Henry on "Oklahoma" and "Bye, Bye Birdie," so she "learned how to manage the kids and stage the choreography" from her. And this production features 60 performers on stage together.

It's Thomas' first time choreographing a main-stage show, although she did the school's holiday show and cabaret pieces. For "The Wiz," she said, "I make up the dances, teach it to the actors and make sure they're doing the right moves at the right time in the song and that the dance moves match up with the music and lyrics."

She started working on the choreography in July. "I listened for the stories in each song," she explained. "So I knew what the characters were saying, and I put it together as entire pieces in September and October."

With so many people on stage at once, said Thomas, it can be tough getting everyone's attention so she can teach them a dance. But her favorite part is "watching them perform it and fulfilling my vision, and the dancers getting what I wanted them to do."

She especially likes the tornado ballet. "It's four dancers and Evvamene, Evillene's sister, and Dorothy's in the middle of it," she said. "They're all extremely talented dancers. They can do anything I can come up with."