Hip Hop Wiz
Take the Wizard of Oz, blend in Wicked, Beyonce and Shakira, combine it with modern hip hop moves, feature Michael Jackson and Diana Ross’s characters from the Wiz, and you have a perfect recipe: the Hip Hop Wiz.
The talented team that produced the community’s production of High School Musical went a step further this summer with the creation of the Hip Hop Wiz. Producer Frieda Shalam, an event coordinator for 11 years and member of the Allenhurst planning board, and Director Marlyn Michaels incorporated the central characters from the Wizard of Oz and the Wiz, and updated them with unbelievable hip hop dance routines for the show. They organized the event for the JCC Youth Department in Deal to provide scholarships and funding for after school programs.
Fifty-four cast members between the ages of 9 and 21 from both Brooklyn and Deal rehearsed long and hard for the big night at the JCC. Frieda’s goal was for every performer to feel like a star. That’s why she didn’t make a regular play with several leads; rather, she developed various parts tailored to everyone.
The original script was recreated with a Syrian twist that kept the audience roaring with laughter. One can’t help singing along for days after watching the show. “Ease on down, ease on down the roaaad!” That song will forever bring to mind the image of Dorothy (Haley Shalam) swinging her long pigtails and walking down the yellow brick road with the Scarecrow (Gerry Shalam), Tin Man (Daniel Beyda) and the Lion (Jakey Kassin). Dorothy found her new friends after a tornado carried her away from her bossy, materialistic aunts in Deal and landed her in Central Park. There she found Glenda the Good Witch (Janet Chrem) and her sisters Dolce (Sheila Matut) and Gabbana (Adela Cojab), who lent her a magical pair of red shoes.
Dances to current music were integrated into the storyline, completing the innovative presentation. Props and scenery were top-notch, including the silver Tin Man, apparently made from real tin; flashing lights highlighting the yellow brick road and dancers; not to mention the dummy hanging as a scarecrow, who turned out to be the “real thing” (Gerry himself) hanging from a pole. Lines were memorable and unique, like the wicked witches screaming, “My hair will frizz!” as they melted into nothingness.
“The set design and costumes were gorgeous, and after months of hard work it all paid off as an extremely entertaining production,” commented Doris Dweck, whose 10-year-old daughter performed in the play. “More importantly was the positive experience my daughter gained from it, to hold her head high while performing and trying her best.” She said her daughter began with some trepidation, but thanks to the professional team of directors and staff members, she soon blossomed into a confident cast member.
Each child played his or her unique role in creating the masterpiece. “What an extravaganza!” exclaimed Sheila Mizrahi, Encore coordinator. “The excitement kept coming. Great job and all the credit to Frieda working with so many kids. She put in her all and it showed!”
Parents and children alike were grateful for the huge success. Director Marlyn Michaels called Frieda a “human dynamo” on constant high speed, and pointed out how she provided opportunities for the cast to expound on their talents. As if to prove Marlyn’s point, Dorothy and Glenda both possess beautiful voices and hit all the high notes during their solos.
Monique Chera’s two daughters, Cookie and Dalia, were spotted for their dancing skills and given featured parts even though they joined the cast a bit late. Monique thanked Frieda for helping them catch up and for her commitment to all the children. “The programs that [Frieda] runs express her real talent at putting our community programs on the highest level possible, with the finest staff, lighting crews, advertisements, and a true sense of team work,” said Monique. “My children have shared an amazing experience with Frieda and the cast, and we are looking forward to next year’s show.”
Hip Hop Wiz was not only fun for children, but also conveyed an important message. While the plot shed a sarcastic light on the stereotypical lifestyle many live, at the end of the day it is about who you are, how you treat others, and what you have accomplished that makes you a desirable friend. The last scene brought everyone together at the Deal Casino, dancing to Donna Sommers’s “Last Dance.” The audience swayed to the beat and bopped along with cast members in what wrapped up the entire production. As cast members took their bows, each entered the stage wearing a colorful star necklace, depicting the message through the song, “Everyone’s a star.”
Clearly every performer was a star, regardless of age or specific talent. Community organizer Kelly Yedid knows Frieda Shalam since she was a young girl and said Frieda always made their lives fun and exciting back then, and is amazed at how she continues to bring her spirit to a new generation.
“[Frieda] will truly stop at nothing to please those around her—and Deal is lucky to have her,” said Kelly. “Better be careful, we might kidnap her and haul her off to Brooklyn!”
Yvonne Harari is a graduate of Brooklyn College and Allegra Franco Sephardic Women’s Teachers College.