The Wiz’s opening night a success for Hillside Drama Department

Cast members, left to right, Joshua Suiter, Jordan Hankerson, Jordan Jarmon and Isaiah Gulley celebrate their performance in The Wiz at Hillside High School Friday, Nov. 4, which also celebrated drama teacher Wendell Tabb's 30th anniversary as Hillside High School's theatre director. (Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)


Hundreds  of theatre-goers converged on Hillside High School Friday, Nov. 4, for Hillside Drama Department’s opening night performance of “The Wiz.” Along with the sold-out show, the audience was treated to an awards ceremony and celebration of Wendell Tabb, Hillside’s theatre director.

First Last introduces and celebrates Wendell Tabb and his 30th year working as Hillside High School’s drama director and teacher. Mr. Tabb is internationally known and has received many awards for his excellence in theatre and production. Mr. Tabb was the Artistic Director for The Wiz this year. (Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

Dr. William T. Logan, principal at Hillside High School, right, introduces and celebrates Wendell Tabb and his 30th year working as Hillside’s drama director and teacher. Mr. Tabb is internationally known and has received many awards for his excellence in theatre and production. Mr. Tabb was the Artistic Director for The Wiz this year. (Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

The night began with a “Night Out with Mr. Tabb,” an event honoring Tabb for 30 years at Hillside. The event included two videos that highlighted Tabb’s time at the school. Emmanuel Tabb, Wendell Tabb’s son, coordinated the event for his father.

“At first he was leery a little bit because it’s never about him when he’s doing something, it’s always about the community,” Emmanuel Tabb said. “So he said if I was going to do it, he wanted it to be about the community.”

Emmanuel Tabb said his dad has worked to bring theatre to those who may not be able to experience it elsewhere.

“For my dad, it doesn’t matter what race you are, what gender you are, if you have a disability, any division, anything people can use to divide…it doesn’t matter to him,” Emmanuel Tabb said. “He wants to make sure that everybody is able to experience theatre.”

George Faison, the first African American to win a Tony award for choreography in The Wiz in 1975, attended the show and received the Trailblazer in the Arts Award from the Hillside High School Drama Department. (Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

George Faison, the first African-American to win a Tony award for choreography in The Wiz in 1975, attended the show and received the Trailblazer in the Arts Award from the Hillside High School Drama Department.
(Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

Wendell Tabb said he was happy to know the work he and others do for the arts is appreciated.

“When you’re doing something that you really truly love, you don’t give a lot of thought to the other particulars because you just love doing it,” Wendell Tabb said. “For them to take a moment just to honor me for something that I love doing, that was just a phenomenal experience.”

After the celebration, Wendell Tabb hosted an awards ceremony, honoring Hillside alumni and a celebrity guest. Tabb presented George Faison with Hillside’s Trailblazer in the Arts Award. In 1975, Faison became the first African American to win the Tony Award for best choreography for his work on “The Wiz,” according to an article on the Durham Public Schools website.

Faison visited Hillside Nov. 3 as part of Tabb’s “Celebrities in the Classroom” program, said Tabb. Tabb said he felt Faison was a perfect fit to come speak to his students.

“I guess the icing on the cake was that we were doing “The Wiz,” which he won the Tony Award for,” Tabb said.

Veronique MacRae was awarded Hillside’s Theatre Alumnus Award. MacRae graduated from Hillside in 2000. She is founder and executive director of The 1:10 Project, a non-profit arts collective that supports arts education, activism, community service and social justice, according to the project’s website. Tabb also presented the Hillside High School Alumni Association with Hillside’s Ambassador Award.

The scarecrow, played by Jordan Jarmon, cries out for help from Dorothy, who was passing the corn field during the Hillside High School production of The Wiz on November 4. (Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

The Scarecrow, played by Jordan Jarmon, cries out for help from Dorothy, who was passing the corn field during the Hillside High School production of The Wiz on November 4.
(Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

With the opening festivities complete, it was show time. The crowd cheered from start to finish as Dorothy and friends made their way through the Land of Oz. Jordan Hankerson, a junior who played the role of Dorothy, said she enjoyed performing in front a packed house.

“I’ve never seen the house this full besides the school shows,” Hankerson said. “Knowing all these big important people are coming…it was like, ‘Whoa.’ The energy and the vibe from the crowd, it was just amazing. I’m so honored to be able to play Dorothy on such a big night like this.”

Hankerson said she and the other members of the cast had practiced tirelessly for almost five weeks. She said Friday night’s performance made the hard work worthwhile.

“Coming up to this process, it was like, ‘Okay, we’ve been working this hard,’” Hankerson said. “And now it was like, ‘Okay, do people like it? Did it pay off?’ And in the end it did.”

wilson_thewizdorothy

Jordan Hankerson, playing Dorothy, comforts the Lion, played by Isaiah Gulley, during their quest to find the Wiz, who they believe can solve all their problems. (Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

The school remained packed after the show ended. Walking room was scarce as audience members flowed into the lobby for a reception that included food and photo opportunities with cast members. William Logan, Hillside’s principal, had high praise for the event as a whole.

“This has probably been one of the best openings that I’ve witnessed personally since I’ve been here,” Logan said. “I don’t know if it’s the 30-year celebration or our special guest or just a combination of all of these different things. It’s certainly a great feeling to see how well developed these kids have…just how developed they’ve become over the years.”

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Jordan Jarmon, playing the Scarecrow, and Isaiah Gulley, playing the Lion, debate on their next move on the yellow brick road to see the Wiz. (Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

Joshua Suiter, the Tinman, sings out in happiness at the new heart he just received from the magical and mysterious Wiz, played by Justin Wright/Mario Criss (waiting on confirmation which one). (Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

Joshua Suiter, junior, playing the Tinman, sings out in happiness at the new heart he just received from the magical and mysterious Wiz, played by Justin Wright.
(Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

First Last, First Last and First Last perform as The Wiz’s dancers in the Emerald City in Hillside High School’s production of The Wiz on November 4.

Kayla Stallings, Jazmine Warren and Kiana Sumpte perform as the Wiz’s dancers in the Emerald City in Hillside High School’s production of The Wiz on November 4. (Staff photo by Meredith Wilson)

Meredith Wilson is a UNC-CH junior majoring in editing/graphic design and media production. For the VOICE she is serving as a staff phographer-writer.


Noah Grant is a UNC-CH senior reporting major from Gastonia serving as a staff writer for the Durham VOICE.


2 thoughts on “The Wiz’s opening night a success for Hillside Drama Department

  1. Carmen Jarmon says:

    Wonderful article. My stepson Jordan Jarmon was the scarecrow. I saw three of the four showings and that still wasn’t enough for my family and I. My mother who is 70 says she needs them to do one more performance! Lol Those kids are super talented and Mr. Tabb is a creative genius!

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