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Houston plays dream role in "The Wiz" on Va. stage

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"The Wiz", co-produced by the Virginia Stage Company and Norfolk State University, opened on April 14 and runs Tuesday to Sunday through April 30 at the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, Va. Northeastern High School senior Alana Houston plays Dorothy in the professional stage production.

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By Cindy Beamon
Albemarle Life Editor

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Since she was little, Northeastern High School senior Alana Houston has dreamed of playing Dorothy in "The Wiz."  Now she's living that dream -- with an added bonus she did not expect.

Houston is playing the star role in a professional production of the musical now showing at the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, Va. The show, co-produced by the Virginia Stage Company and Norfolk State University, opened on April 14 and runs Tuesday to Sunday through April 30. Ticket prices start at $20 with various discounts available.

"I feel really blessed to have this opportunity, to share the good news of "The Wiz,'" she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Houston arrived at auditions, thinking she was only trying out for a part. Later she learned that the audition also won her a full theater arts scholarship at Norfolk State University. Houston plans to begin studies there this fall.

Houston said she's not sure why she was chosen for the star role among others who sought the part, She guessed over 100 Virginia Stage Company performers, college drama students and performers from New York auditioned. The cast includes more than 50 performers and 20 technicians on what the Virginia Stage Company website called “the largest spectacle to hit the Wells Theatre since ‘My Fair Lady.’”

"I didn't expect it, but I am not as surprised as I would be if I had not been praying about it," Houston said about winning the role.

Ironically, Houston had an earlier brush with stardom in another production related to "The Wizard of Oz," the novel that became inspiration for “The Wiz.”

At age 15, Houston was chosen to sing on stage with Broadway star Megan Hilty at the Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta. For that opportunity, Houston was able to sing a number from the Broadway hit, “Wicked,” and her performance was so powerful she even had Hilty in tears while on stage.

Houston said she likes the role of Dorothy because her character grows up after being transported to Oz.

"I like that she starts out as a little girl who doesn't want to grow up...and turns into a woman...It's like she finds her home in herself," she said.

Her favorite song in the show is "Be a Lion." Besides being a pretty song, she likes that Dorothy teaches the cowardly Lion not be afraid and to step out of his comfort zone.

She said the role has also taught her something about herself.

"Everything that you want is probably already there inside of you," she said.

Houston, the daughter of Joseph Houston and Kelly and Sean Whidbee, has been singing since she was 10 and acting on stage since age 12. She's performed in plays for The Center Players, College of the Albemarle and high school productions. She also sang with local jazz band "Connected" for the Third Thursday Jazz concert series.

In 2015, Houston won first place at the Down East Talent Contest at East Carolina University in Greenville, co-sponsored by Cooke Communications North Carolina, the owner of The Daily Advance.

In the past year, she performed in two shows at Norfolk State University, "A Musical Tribute to Luther Vandross" and "Black Nativity."

Besides singing in musicals, Houston likes to perform jazz and gospel "or anything with soul in it."

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