Cicero-North Syracuse High School in Cicero, New York, is preparing a theatrical performance of “The Wiz.” Students have been practicing for weeks, belting tunes performed by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson down the Yellow Brick Down. But none of the featured cast in a beloved black American classic is black. Parents are outraged and the Cicero community is in uproar.
Kierrah Titus was one of seven African-American students that auditioned for the musical, which The Guide to Musical Theater refers to as “a black version of the perennial Wizard of Oz.” Titus was the only one of those seven students chosen and she was relegated to the ensemble dance troupe.
Titus’ mother, Letrice Titus, is one of the parents lodging a complaint against the school. She questions why no black students were selected for leading roles. “Are there no talented African-American students at C-NS?” L. Titus asked a reporter at the Post-Standard. “Was there any outreach to the African-American students in the school? Why didn’t the school just do The Wizard of Oz?”
Those are questions she posed to the musical director, Caryn Patterson, and other school officials in January. Titus requested a recasting of a play, with specific focus given to diversifying the cast. She alleges that the school dismissed her concerns.
I can remember the moment a high school dismissed mine as well. In one of the most diverse schools in a predominantly white school district, my first high school also cast a completely white cast in “The Wiz.” Many students were outraged, especially when so many of us auditioned and were gifted standing ovations. Like the Titus’, our angered response was considered “poor sportsmanship” and we were chided for our behavior,
This is a blatant disregard for the black American experience and what “The Wiz” signifies for our community. We have few books, plays and movies that holistically represent elements of the black American experience. Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and the other cast members in the film and on the stage captured “The Wizard of Oz” and made it relevant to us.
But Titus isn’t taking the slight without a ruckus. She will raise her questions at the North Syracuse Central School District Board of Education with support from the local chapter of the NAACP and other parents.
Preston Fagan, Cicero’s NAACP chapter president, thinks this is an important issue to address.
“To not let a black student have an acting role in this play is appalling,” Fagan told the Post-Standard. “It’s almost an insult.”