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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » Utopian Academy’s Budding Actors To Star In “The Wiz”

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Utopian Academy for the Arts will present a revue of the Broadway musical classic

“The Wiz” at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Paradise Gymnasium Cultural Center in Forest Park, Ga.

The debut performance at 4295 Hendrix Drive features a cast of 30 students working onstage and behind the scenes. It is the first musical produced by the Fine Arts Department. The timeless musical comedy was chosen for its electrifying ballads, exciting choreography, and bold set designs.

“We started casting for ‘The Wiz’ last year when we first developed the Fine Arts Department,” said Ebonne Craft, director of Fine Arts at Utopian Academy and executive producer for the musical. “We wanted to do a musical to showcase the talents of our students, but we had a very limited budget. We decided to do ‘The Wiz’ because it is part of our history.”

Parent boosters have been working with the Fine Arts Department to raise money for costumes, musicians, sets and other necessities. Campaign organizers hope that contributions will continue to trickle in before the curtain is raised on opening night.

The original production of “The Wiz” opened on Broadway 40 years ago. It was performed nearly 1,700 times and became a national treasure after it hit the big screen. Motown Productions’ Berry Gordy produced a film version of the play that became a cult classic movie. The film starred Diana Ross as “Dorothy”; Michael Jackson as “The Scarecrow”; Nipsey Russell as “The Tinman”; Ted Ross as “The Cowardly Lion”; and Richard Pryor as “The Wiz.” A live remake of the musical will be featured during the holiday season on Dec. 3 on NBC starring Shanice Williams as “Dorothy.”

Utopian Academy students watched the movie several times to help them get into character and make their production as authentic as the Hollywood version.

The performance stars 14-year-old Myrical Beasley as “Dorothy” in her first musical lead role. “I really love to sing and act,” said Beasley, who has a rich, soulful voice full of emotion beyond her years. “I thought ‘The Wiz’ would be a perfect show for me because it has everything that I like to do.”

The eighth grader didn’t think she had landed the part at first. “After the audition, I started crying because I messed up the song ‘Home’,” she said. “I was so nervous. About a week later, teachers came around to let people know who made the lead parts. I was so happy when I was chosen that I stepped outside to call my mom. This is really a big deal for me.”

Utopian Academy students also built sets for the musical; designed the promotional trailer; helped to oversee rehearsals; and assisted with lighting and props for the production.

For musical director, Erica Thomas preparing the cast to sing the popular songs of “The Wiz” has been a trip down memory lane. Thomas also played the part of “Dorothy” as a child in a school musical production of the Broadway sensation.

“It was my first musical, and my first time having the main part,” said Thomas. She has spent hours coaching Beasley to find the power in her voice to deliver the emotion behind the big songs in the musical. “It’s very inspiring to be a part of the play again. The kids are very talented. A lot of them didn’t have an arts background before coming to Utopian. They are developing an appreciation for the theater.”

Working with the play was a learning experience for students that allowed some to discover their hidden talents.

Dance Department Director Shakira Ballantyne taught Broadway-style steps to students whose faces she doesn’t usually see in her classes. The show’s biggest dance numbers occur when the main characters reach Munchkin Land and Emerald City. Scholars move vigorously to the songs “He’s the Wiz” and “Brand New Day.”

Participating in a school musical makes students “well-rounded,” Ballantyne said.

“Everyone gets to dance,” she said. “Surprisingly, the group is really picking up the choreography quickly. I played to their strengths and broke down the steps so that they understood what I wanted them to do. Some are discovering talents that they didn’t know they had.”

Veteran dancers with Utopian’s Elite Elegance Dance Team also will perform during the show when the main characters stop at a nightclub in the poppy fields leading to Emerald City.

Craft said that working with the musical helped students to realize what it takes to put on a major production from raising funds to finding a venue. “Even though we don’t have the budget of a major fine arts school, we have a passion for the arts,” Craft said.

“One of our biggest challenges is that we are starting from scratch. There are no previous shows to pull costumes and props from,” Thomas said. “We have to go out and get everything.”

The Visual Arts Department used recycled cardboard boxes and other materials to help create the sets for Emerald City and Munchkin Land. The hands-on activity was like an internship for art students. Before they began the job, they saw a video about starting a career as a set designer .

“We have five different scenes,” said Shiterria Harris, Visual Arts Director. “We’ve been painting the sets with acrylic paint, adding glitter, and using spray paint for finishing touches.”

The show has a promotional trailer that was shot and edited by Syleena Henderson, a Utopian scholar who used the tools of film industry professionals. Henderson worked under the guidance of Lauren Lawson, director of the Broadcast Journalism Department.

“Syleena is a good technical assistant,” Lawson said. “If I need someone to film a close-up. I don’t have to tell her what to do. She does a perfect job.”

Lawson said working on the production end of the musical is just as stressful as being on stage. “There are a lot of moving parts,” she said. “We have taken headshots, captured behind the scenes footage, and have completed the video trailer. Next we have to record the show from different angles and do some time-consuming and tedious editing. It’s a lot of work, but we love it.”

The Booster Club is reaching out to parents and community arts organizations to help the production raise money for cordless microphones and other needs. The production will have the ambiance of a professional show complete with a live band and a make-up artist.

Aija Boatwright, a pro stylist, will transform the cast of Utopian scholars into Munchkins in the land of Oz and the show’s beloved main characters.

“The ‘Wizard of Oz’ is challenging, but it’s going to be fun,” Boatright said.

Kelley Beasley, Booster Club president will continue to seek contributions to support “The Wiz” and future musicals. “Our parents are awesome,” she said.

Beasley, the mother of Myrical who plays “Dorothy” in the musical, is anxiously awaiting opening night. “This has been Myrical’s thing since she was four-years-old. She loves the arts. She can act and sing. I can’t hold a note. I help her to run her lines, though. It’s kind of feels like we both are playing ‘Dorothy’.”

The Wiz Cast Executive Producer: Ebonne Craft Music Director: Erica Thomas Choreographer: Shakira Ballantyne Technical Director: Lauren Lawson Make up Artist: Aija Boatwright Visual Arts Director: Shiterria Harris Aunt Em: Jordan Green Uncle Henry: Darion Turner Dorothy: Myrical Beasley The Wiz: Derian Neaves Scarecrow: Lauryn Allums Tinman: Arkayla Napper Lion: Darion Turner Glenda: Christina Daniels Evilene: Briana Christian

Ensemble Starlis Thompson Jayda Flemming Sydney Williams Queen Isis Merk Jaila Jenkins Maia Jackson Tarielle Paschals Ashalah Wright Aliyah Taylor Madison Dumount Ke’Mya Brandy Niylah Peoples Jailyn Sorrells Kayla Stokes Jamal Mazyck Jamel Mazyck

Parent Boosters Kelley Beasley, president; Keisha Murray, vice president; Chandra Pendergraft; Dori Rodriguez; Charrie Henderson; and Nneaka Neaves.

To contribute to “The Wiz” and future productions of Utopian Academy, contact the school at 770-892-1644 or email ebonne.craft@utiopanacademy.com.

Watch the WIZ trailer here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb7ktrgc-rY

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