Thornton drama students lead the way in “The Wiz”

Young performers put together their take on the Black cult classic. They were joined by an eclectic bunch: students from the Brooks Middle School theatre program.

With the feedback student director Kylee Broomfield received after directing Thornton’s production of “ Dreamgirls ” last year, she knew she had to think big for this year’s spring show.

“First, I was looking at Tyler Perry and Madea plays for a comedic aspect, but I knew I had actors and [audiences] that would be more intrigued with singing and dancing,” Broomfield said. “I thought of other [productions] such as Hairspray, but I knew Thornton’s diversity wasn’t as in-depth as other schools.”

Ultimately, Broomfield decided on the 1975 Broadway musical hit, “The Wiz,” a reimagined take on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that echoes the classic tale from the lens of the Black experience. Following its Broadway debut, it was adopted into a 1978 featuring iconic names such as Diana Ross (Dorothy Gale), Michael Jackson (Scarecrow) and Richard Pryor (The Wiz).

Thornton drama directors have given agency to students to write, direct, and produce stage plays. Here, young performers can see themselves as authors of their own stories.

Broomfield considered how big of a production “The Wiz” is and potential casting choices when deciding the spring show. The musical holds a special childhood memory between her and her late grandfather.

Production commenced when Broomfield began writing the script in January. She completed the script towards the end of February and held auditions early on to observe her casting options.

“With casting, I really looked at who I had from [Dreamgirls] and who I had new coming in,” Broomfield said. “The turnout [for auditions] was astronomical versus the turnout for Dreamgirls.”

Casting turned out to be a “no-brainer” for Broomfield. Among the main cast were students Treazure Jackson (Dorothy), Immanuel Boyce (Tin Man), Caleb Steele (Scarecrow) and Izaiah Garner (Cowardly Lion). Broomfield noted distinct strengths of the young performers: Jackson’s “out-of-this world” singing and acting skills (even referring to her as “a little Whitney Houston reincarnated”), Boyce’s open-mindedness and commitment to his character, Steele’s “amazing” dancing skills and artistic abilities and Garner’s “big, amazing” vocals.

“With the whole cast, everybody intertwined or had chemistry in a way where there were no shortcomings in anyone,” Broomfield said. “Everybody had very creative structures and different things about themselves that made them unique as individuals.”

Steele, who previously performed in Thornton’s productions of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Dreamgirls” as Jack and C.C. White respectively, felt “a bit of pressure” taking on the role made famous by Michael Jackson. “A lot of people who have seen ‘The Wiz,’… Michael Jackson is their favorite part of that whole movie, so I was kind of under a specific type of spotlight,” Steele said.

After production, Steele created a documentary featuring behind-the-scenes footage of the cast and crew including pre-show warmups, post-show outings and playful, backstage antics. Steele felt the need to document the experience because he felt like the show would be a big deal, and to him, it was.

“I really grew to love the Scarecrow,” Steele said. “I felt like I needed to show that to the world and show that these characters aren’t just characters. They’re a part of us.”

A special element in this production featured sixth grade drama students from Brooks Middle School playing the Munchkins.

According to Brooks’ theatre director Keesha Buchanan, the idea to collaborate stemmed from Broomfield volunteering with Brooks’ drama club. After seeing “Dreamgirls” last year, Buchanan invited Broomfield to help her out with her theatre students to earn points towards her senior portfolio.

Soon after, Buchanan was asked if her students could visit Thornton to play the Munchkins. “[My students] loved the whole experience,” Buchanan said. “They were able to get a little taste of high school, [perform on a] much bigger stage, much bigger production … They just like being the center of attention.” Broomfield’s older sister helped develop their choreography.

The students powered through three-hour rehearsals after school Monday through Friday and five-hour rehearsals on Saturdays. According to director Monique Williams, the young thespians were under a major time crunch.

“We literally had six weeks, maybe a little under, to put this whole production together,” Williams said. “Usually with a musical, you’re able to have more time than that.”

Despite the short time frame, the students were able to push through. Williams said her favorite part about directing is the empowerment of the students and seeing them come together to accomplish a common goal.

“I decided to allow the youth to lead it and to have active voices in decision making,” Williams said.

Broomfield’s directing days at Thornton are over, but her theatre career will continue at Louisiana State University, where she received a full-ride scholarship. Her ultimate goal is to provide more performing arts opportunities to her community.

“What was so rewarding for me—it wasn’t the end of the show, it wasn’t the claps or the finale, it was when we all went to dinner after the last show, and I heard people in the grades under me talk about what to do for next year,” Broomfield said.

“I want to pour back into my community. [By] giving the kids the proper tools, the sky would be the limit for them.”


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