Students ‘Remember the Time’

By Luke Wilusz

Students sang, danced and moved like the King of Pop in front of a packed house as they remembered Michael Jackson with a new tribute show at the Chicago International Charter Schools’ Longwood campus this week.

“Expressions of MJ,” which the theater company For Children By Children put together, opened Feb. 18 at the CICS-Longwood Auditorium, 1309 W. 95th St. Other performances took place on Feb. 19 and 25, and the final two shows are scheduled for March 4 and 5 at 7 p.m.

Roderick Lewis, artistic director for the F.C.B.C. theater group and director of “Expressions of MJ,” said he wanted to expose people to some of the King of Pop’s lesser-known music.

“I want the audience to hear some music that may not be commercially released or played on the radio regularly, but is still classic Michael Jackson,” Lewis said. “There’s no ‘Beat It’ scene, there’s no ‘Bad’ scene, because, you know, you see that all the time. There’s no ‘Thriller.’”

Lewis said that instead of simply featuring Michael Jackson’s songs, the play delves deeper into his life and his influence on pop culture.

“We show different songs that reflect his lifestyle, reflect his music, reflect his impact on the arts and his humanitarian contributions,” Lewis said. “We do trace ‘Little Mike’ to Mike’s passing, and in the process, we see a lot of transformation. We see him as a member of the Jackson 5, we see him as a member of the Jacksons, but we also see that his music was played on very influential shows like ‘Soul Train.’”

Lewis wrote and directed the musical, but students choreographed, performed and put the show together. Lewis said the students studied Michael Jackson’s dance moves through his music videos and recorded performances to aid in choreographing the show.

“The experience has been so magical for me because I’m a huge Michael Jackson fan, and so having to choreograph the numerous dances in this play, I feel like I’m a part of him,” said Keanna Harris, 18, a choreographer and dancer for the show. “I feel his music, I love the dances, so just to be part of this experience has been really great.”

Harris choreographed the dances for the show’s “Remember the Time” and “Dangerous” scenes.

“I had to study every single move from top to bottom,” she said. “It took so long, but I actually love doing it.”

Lewis said it’s important to him to give the students as much control over the show as possible.

“My assistant director, my stage manager, my choreographers, they’re all students,” Lewis said. “They’re all young adults, and because I give them that kind of autonomy and ownership over [the show], they take pride in it, and they’re just as passionate about the art as I am. ”

Lewis said his high expectations for his students result in a better overall performance in the long run.

“To make this a professional play, which it is, you have to treat [the students] like professionals, and you have to expect professional results,” he said. “If I expect amateur, high school play results, I will get that.”

Christopher Armond, a junior at Longwood, is a “Jack of all trades” when it comes to theater. In his three years with F.C.B.C., he’s tried his hand at acting, assistant directing, costume work and lighting. He plays both Jermaine and Joe Jackson in “Expressions of MJ,” in addition to doing spotlight work on the show.

“Balancing acting and everything, on top of crew, it keeps me busy, which is good,” Armond said. “I’m never sitting down backstage. I’m either changing clothes, onstage or getting stuff ready for the next scene or helping somebody else.”

Armond said he wants to continue doing theater professionally after high school, but he doesn’t necessarily want to stick with performing.

“I love it all,” he said. “But if I had to choose, I would go with the technical crew side because that’s when you’re in your element. You get to focus on what you want to do, what needs to be done. Acting’s fun, it gets you out there, but there is no show without the crew.”

Lewis said that while F.C.B.C. mostly does productions for the school, they have performed their shows in other venues when there was enough interest, and he’s confident that the same thing could happen with “Expressions of MJ.”

“I think it’s too powerful of a show,” Lewis said. “[Jackson’s] birthday is coming up in August, he passed [away] in June, you never know how many requests there might be as a result.”

Lewis said he’s already gotten requests to perform the show at churches and other schools.