Trenton Makes Musical Theater: Thoughts on Trenton Central High School's The Wiz

Written by
Lou Chen, TAP Program Manager
March 8, 2023

When the pandemic struck in winter 2020, the arts were deeply injured. Theaters closed their doors, concerts were canceled, and artists were sidelined. Among the greatest artistic casualties in our community was Trenton Central High School’s long-awaited musical theater production of The Wiz, which was meant to celebrate the high school’s new campus. Only weeks before the curtain was set to open on March 27, 2020, students were sent home and The Wiz was put on hold.

Alexandria Chery
Alexandria Chery as Aunt Em. Photo by: Frank Wojciechowski.

Three years later, The Wiz finally became reality. On March 3, 2023, TCHS presented the musical to an audience of hundreds: students, teachers, families, community members, Princeton campus members, and more. I was in the audience that night. It was an artistic experience that left me feeling moved and transformed.

To see the Trenton students onstage—many of whom I know well, from their participation in Saturday Morning Arts—filled me with such pride and joy. One of our Trenton Youth Theater students, Alexandria Chery, played two roles: Aunt Em and Glinda. I first got to know Alexandria when she joined TYT as a founding member three years ago, during the group's inaugural year on Zoom. On opening night, the first number, “That Feeling We Once Had,” was all hers. When she strode onto stage as Aunt Em, turned her gaze to Dorothy, and unfurled her voice to its full glory, I was blown away. When she joined TYT, the prospect of presenting a monologue over Zoom made her nervous. Now, here she was, presenting herself to hundreds of people.

The production featured many such moments. There was Trenton Youth Orchestra saxophonist Sorange, doing a wild step number as a member of the Yellow Brick Road. There was Trenton Youth Dancers member Kayla Diaz, singing and dancing her heart out as Evilenne—hold up, Kayla can sing? Left and right, everywhere I looked, I saw proof of the life-changing power of the arts: to help children realize who it is they can really be.

Felicia Brown

TCHS theater teacher Felicia Brown. Photo by: Frank Wojciechowski.

I also saw proof of the vibrant community that together, Trenton and Princeton have built. Playing in the pit orchestra were Princeton first-year Charlotte Defriez and graduate student Gabrielle Hooper, who work with TCHS students every Saturday as Trenton Youth Orchestra volunteers. The lights that adorned their music stands were loaned by the Department of Music. In the audience were colleagues from the Pace Center for Civic Engagement. And in the list of sponsors that was displayed outside the auditorium, I saw the names of Lewis Center for the Arts faculty and staff: among them, assistant director Mary O’Connor and theater faculty Michael Cadden, Jane Cox, and Brian Herrera.

No reflection of The Wiz is complete without an acknowledgement of the incredible teachers who made it possible. There’s Felicia Brown, the theater teacher who steered the production from start to finish; Andy Seabert, the visual and performing arts teacher leader who made a million things go right; Elizabeth Zwierzynski, the founding dance teacher who designed the captivating choreography; Dr. Tilottama Bose, the vice principal who garnered community support; and Joseph Pucciatti and Gary Taylor, longtime music teachers who put the “musical” in “musical theater.” It was a herculean effort, made possible by these herculean teachers. 

Reflecting on that amazing night, what I feel most strongly is gratitude: for our devoted teacher partners, for our off-the-charts talented students, and for the community that includes us all, Trenton and Princeton alike.