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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”