Dorothy and crew
The '70s meet the 21st century in Appleton production
'ease on down the road'
of 'The Wiz'
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
Jim Romenesko is directing The Wiz presented by Xavier Theatre, but you won't find him backstage when the musical opens on Nov. 9 at the Xavier Fine Arts Theatre in Appleton.
"I sit in the audience and watch the show with everyone else," he said. "It's completely run by the kids. They are so responsible. They really know how to handle it. When you have a group of kids like that, you look for projects that are really challenging."
Challenges in presenting The Wiz include technical special effects, creative costuming and elaborate staging.
"We have a huge technical crew that would string me up if I didn't pick a show that had a big challenge for them, so this show has the tornado on stage," said Romenesko. "We regularly have 20 to 25% of the student body auditioning for the shows. By the time we set up our orchestra, our lighting crew, our backstage crew, running crew and ushers, we have 100 to 120 kids involved in the production. The musical is a big event here."
In The Wiz, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion re-live their adventure, but this time to a rock beat. Highlights of the production include high-energy dance numbers, a contemporary score, a comic script and the special effects.
Last year, we did Jesus Christ Superstar, which is such a strong drama," said Romenesko. "This year we wanted the musical to be a family show. If it is something you can bring the kids to we are happy about that."
The 1970s music in The Wiz was embraced by the cast, added Romenesko.
"When I was in high school, it was the '50s that was nostalgia," he said. "Now it's the '70s. When I tell them to bring a costume that looks like Elton John or Austin Powers, they know exactly what I'm talking about."
"I like the whole soul funk thing," said Connor McKnight who plays the Scarecrow. "I like the base lines in 'Ease on Down the Road.'"
"I really do like it (music)," said Chris Jansen, the Lion. "I saw The Wiz (film version) after I found out I got the role. When I was watching it I thought, 'I can get into this.' It allows you to bring different types of dance moves into it."
Although the leads are demanding, the actors point to the backstage crew as stars of the show.
"Those guys do not get enough credit," said Jansen, a senior. "They know that we appreciate their work. They are here every day after school."
"What they do is incredible," said McKnight, a junior. "We get the response from the audience. When a backstage guy sees a prop he made work to perfection, that's his reward. We owe them so much."
Auditioning for the musical began the second week of school. The cast and crew are anxious for opening night following weeks of preparation.
"Once the curtain opens and you're on the stage for the first time it's an adrenaline rush," said Jansen. "I play basketball, but it's a different feeling than being on the court in front of the crowd. It's hard to explain. It's a great feeling."
"I think I will be pretty nervous, but I can't wait," said McKnight. "I hope I give as good a performance as I can. I think it will be fun."
Show dates are Nov. 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Xavier Box Office, (920)733-8840. Box Office hours are 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Interested parties may also leave a message with a phone number and the best time to return their call. Cash, checks, VISA and MasterCard are accepted with a $1 processing fee. Tickets are $8 for adults or $7 for seniors and students. The musical is appropriate for ages kindergarten to adult.