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Copper Hills to put on 'The Wiz'

Dancers representing the tornado swirl around the stage during rehearsal for Copper Hills High School's production of "The Wiz." The musical, based on "The Wizard of Oz," will be today, Friday and Monday.
Dancers representing the tornado swirl around the stage during rehearsal for Copper Hills High School's production of "The Wiz." The musical, based on "The Wizard of Oz," will be today, Friday and Monday.
Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

Take Dorothy and her band of friends, add the Copper Hills High School music and drama departments, spice it up with a little soul, jazz and gospel music and "The Wiz" hits the stage with performances Nov. 11,12, and 14 at 7 p.m.

The high school will perform the 1975 Broadway musical that follows L. Frank Baum's traditional "Wizard of Oz" storyline with a pop-rock twist.

"It's quite different from the musicals this school has been doing for the past 10 years," said Jordan Morrell, director.

Copper Hills has traditionally followed other high schools in the area and performed more popular Rodgers and Hammerstein-type productions, he said. This year Morrell and the music directors decided to try something new.

The music is exciting because it's jazzy and upbeat — departing from what has been done before, said Gail Richardson, vocal music director.

"This gives the kids another variety of music to do," Richardson said. "They've had to learn a new style of singing. They've worked really hard on it and they're sounding great."

It took a little convincing at first though. "From the announcement, the kids were like 'We've never even heard of this show,' " Morrell said. "A lot of them went out and rented the movie, and the movie is an atrocious disaster. They said, 'We can't do this.' "

After assuring his students that the musical is much different from the movie, Morrell said that his students began listening to the Broadway show's soundtrack and their enthusiasm grew.

"Their dance auditions and their singing auditions were amazing," he said. "There was a change in the kids — an energy they didn't have before." It was new and fresh for them, Morrell said. Students could relate to the production better because its songs are more similar to the type of music that youth are listening to today.

Brenda Farnworth, a junior who is playing Aunt Em, said she was surprised when she heard the music.

"The music is not your traditional music that you're used to hearing in musicals," Farnworth said. "It's so much fun. I wasn't expecting it to be so good."

Students initially had received the musical's announcement with some hesitation because the show was written for an entire black cast, Morrell said. That's all most students had heard about it.

But just because the show was written for an all-black cast doesn't mean that an all-black cast should perform it, he said. The way the show was written teaches students to celebrate other cultures and their styles of music, he said.

"The Wiz" also teaches an important message about growing up, emphasizing Dorothy's journey of learning and growing, Morrell said. It underlies the importance of friendship and family. It also teaches that sometimes people have to do things they'd rather not do in order to succeed in life.

"It's a good message to tell because the kids in the high school are moving from teenagers to adults and they have to start using their brains, their hearts and find their courage to decide what it is they want to do with their lives as they're growing up," he said. "It's a good metaphor told in a light and colorful way."

Besides giving his students everything they need to help them perform and share their talents with the community, Morrell said he hopes he has helped his students internalize the lessons from the show and realize that they can succeed at whatever they choose to do in life.

"For those who just love the 'Wizard of Oz,' they will really enjoy the changes that are here, and for those like me, who aren't as fond of 'The Wizard of Oz,' they will really love it," Richardson said.

Individuals can purchase tickets for $5 in advance at the Copper Hills High School office or $6 at the door. A family of five can also purchase tickets for $20.