Estes Park Trail Gazette – Eagle Rock students to present production of ‘The Wiz’

By Trail-Gazette staff

Students and faculty at Eagle Rock School are hard at work preparing the Tony Award winning 1975 musical, “The Wiz,” for a series of performances at the YMCA of the Rockies’ Hempel Auditorium.

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, March 31; Friday, April 1 and Saturday, April 2.

Admission is “pay what you want,” according to Eagle Rock music teacher Michael Grant. Proceeds from the show will go toward the Eagle Rock Graduate Fund, which supports students when graduate. The fund provides each Eagle Rock graduate with a $14,000 stipend, provided they’ve fulfilled all requirements.

Tin Man (Djibril Cayolbah) sings to the Wiz (Aaron Smiley), as Lion (Soren Arvidson), Dorothy (Aviv Kirtner) and Scarecrow (Javon Banks) look on during

Tin Man (Djibril Cayolbah) sings to the Wiz (Aaron Smiley), as Lion (Soren Arvidson), Dorothy (Aviv Kirtner) and Scarecrow (Javon Banks) look on during rehearsal for Eagle Rock School’s production of “The Wiz.” (Courtesy photo)

“The Wiz” is an urban retelling of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 story “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” using Motown, funk and soul music to rework the story into the context of modern African-American culture. A film adaption of the show was released in 1978, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. Eagle Rock’s staged version is enacted by 11 talented students and four staff members, backed by a live four-piece professional pit band.

The show is directed by Meghan Tokunaga-Scanlon, co-directed by Brighid Scanlon, with musical direction by Michael Grant.

“The music is really good,” Tokunaga-Scanlon said. “There’s a lot of internal symbolism written into the show that’s not always explored.”

The story of Dorothy and her trip to Oz has become known worldwide for its themes of home, belonging, belief in oneself, and freedom. “The Wiz,” with it’s premiere in 1975 with an all-black cast and African-American styles, boldly showed that this classic story belongs to everyone, not just “white” America. Audiences of all races have continuously flocked to “The Wiz” for the past forty years; in addition to be culturally empowering, it is a “joy machine,” gorgeously designed, with quick humor and irresistible melodies.

Preparations for the Eagle Rock production began back in early fall 2015 with a Technical Theater class. Seven students spent a semester learning what goes on behind the scenes to design sets, sound, costume, props, and lighting. Theater professors and crew leaders at CU Boulder and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts welcomed the group and gave extensive backstage tours of their facilities.

A record-breaking number of Eagle Rock students auditioned for “The Wiz” in December, and were cast based on their acting, singing, and dancing abilities, in addition to their commitment to creating a healthy ensemble. The cast began all day work on the production once returning to campus in January. In addition to demanding rehearsals, the students have spent time investigating the show’s cultural history, and will be leading discussions with the Eagle Rock community in the coming weeks about the show’s social and cultural context.

The story follows Dorothy, an aimless Kansas girl, as she gets swept up in a tornado and lands in the land of Oz, a twisted and colorful version of New York City. Disoriented and homesick, she meets the munchkins and their idol, Addaperle, the feel-good girl. Trying to get home, she is sent on her way to meet the Wiz, who can do “almost anything for anyone.” On this journey she encounters lots of dangerous creatures, like the Kalidahs and Poppies, who test the resolve of her and her new friends: the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion. Once getting to the flashy Emerald City, the all-powerful, self-obsessed Wiz sends them on a quest to kill Evillene, the baddest witch in all of Oz. Accomplishing this, and as their journey ends, each of the four friends learn how to harness the power that they have inside themselves.

“The Wiz” stars Aviv Kirtner as Dorothy, Javon Banks as the Scarecrow, Djibril Cayolbah as the Tinman, Soren Arvidson as the Lion, Aaron Simon as The Wiz, Zoe Johansen as Aunt Em and Glinda, Jonas Troy as Addaperle, Courtney Coleman as Evillene, Brianna Campbell as Munchkin and Ensemble, teaching fellows Aranda Salazar as Gatekeeper, Chris Iafrati as the Messenger, Instructional Specialists Janet Johnson as Lord High Underling, Cynthia Elkins as Ensemble. Students June Jones-Knight and Javonnie Campbell are co-stage managers, as well as playing various ensemble roles.