Musical pairs Fort Worth students with Jubilee Theatre professionals

FORT WORTH -- Carmelita Reyes loves being a Munchkin.

For the Green Elementary third-grader, it's all about jazz hands, jumps and twirls as she gets ready for this week's production of The Wiz. And wait till you see her costume -- a silver dress with a multicolor yellow tutu.

"You get to do a lot of dancing and say some parts while moving," said Carmelita, 8. "It's really hard, but I remember because I keep practicing every day."

The Fort Worth school district is teaming up with Jubilee Theatre to put on the show at O.D. Wyatt High School. The production, which runs Thursday through Saturday, includes nearly 100 students from five elementary schools, two middle schools and four high schools.

Joel Taylor, the district's theater arts coordinator, wanted a project that would pair students with professionals for more than just a workshop. He had also been looking for a way to increase interest for theater arts in east and south Fort Worth schools that do not traditionally have large programs, particularly in elementary grades.

"The best way to get students interested in theater arts is from the bottom up," he said. "The whole idea is to get these kids involved in something they might not have seen or had the opportunity to be involved with before. ... Once students are involved, they'll see that it's fun, and it will foster more interest as they get older."

Students in The Wiz work with professionals from Jubilee on everything from set design to choreography and acting.

Keeping nearly 70 elementary students on task can be challenging, but it's mostly fun, said Director Phyllis Cicero of Jubilee. Working with young ones is nothing new to Cicero, who spent five years as Stella the Storyteller on the popular children's show Barney and Friends.

"You just keep it simple," she said. "They have fun, and they love the idea of costumes. We try to match the age and abilities to the right part in show."

The older elementary students play the citizens of Oz with a more elaborate dance sequence, or the flying monkeys that round up other characters. The youngest students are split between the Munchkins and the Winkies.

Dunbar freshman Xavier Hicks loves Michael Jackson, so he wanted to try out for the part of Scarecrow, which Jackson portrayed in the movie.

"When I got the part, I was like 'Wow!' and then I was like, 'Oh. I don't know how to do acting,'" said Hicks, who has been in choir. "But they really worked with me to teach me what to do, like how I needed to do everything, all my gestures, big for the Scarecrow."

South Hills sophomore Kraytonio Stevenson is excited about opening night. The 15-year-old has worked behind the scenes in one-act plays at school but will be making his onstage debut as the Tin Man.

"It's been a good experience," he said. "It takes a lot of energy out of you, but it's good energy."

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700