When Big Voices, Big Confidence Count

The senior boys gather in a practice room with Cirillo, an avid Billy Joel fan, who is at the keyboard enthusiastically banging out the accompaniment. Slouching against the acoustic tiles, Cody Jones, a long-haired rocker who has lots of acting experience but has never won a role in a musical, said his hopes for being cast are not high.

"When I heard we were doing the Wiz, I figured if I was going to try make any part it would have to be the lion because that's the only one I could sing," he said.

But once he hears that Cirillo is auditioning for the Lion, he seems crestfallen.

"I'm going for the same role as Nick Cirillo, which is the Lion, which means I will probably be overcome by his majesty," Jones said. "When I heard that Nick was trying out I was like 'All right. That's it. There's no way. Nick's gonna get it.'"

But Cirillo admitted that even he's feeling some pressure.

"I'm feeling a little bit nervous. There's a lot of competition. Good competition," he said. "More so than I've auditioned for any other show."

Scott Pafumi, theater arts director at Westfield High School, had some very specific ideas about the qualities the Lion should have.

Understanding the Lion

"I wanted somebody who would really take the stage, really be ferocious. Big voice, big character," he said. "The Lion is a braggart soldier, boasting, big and brave, but really he's a big baby. You have to have someone who knows how to play those two sides comically."

Chris Wildy, one of only two male African-Americans auditioning for "The Wiz", is lining up with the first group of auditioners.

"As soon as I heard we were doing this show, I wanted to audition. But when it came time to learn the song, I got nervous because I don't have a strong voice," he said. "Except when I'm in the shower."

His sister, Jazmine Wildy, says the week leading up to the auditions has tried her patience and her eardrums.

"My brother used to be able to sing in grade school," she said."But now, I am teaching him 'Do Re Mi,' and he was just like, 'I can't do this.'"

Chris may be short on his vocal talents, but he's relying on something else to catch the judges' eye.

"I can't sing that well, but I can dance," he said. "My dance has to be perfect."

More than 100 teenagers are auditioning for eight major leads. Chris is one of the first people to audition for the Lion role.

"The music starts and at first I thought the beat came, and I was like 'Oh man I missed it, you know I have to start over --no!'' he said. "Then I was like, 'Wait I'll try it again,' and I got it and then I got up on beat and I sung my heart out, let it all out."

'I Feel Great'

By the time Cody Jones stepped up to the microphone, he had come up with a plan of action.

"I just didn't think my voice could cut it. I just figured like the way to distinguish between those who had voice and me who doesn't, would be to have a lot of character in the song," he said. "I just wanted to talk like an old 1920's jazz bassist, like Louis Armstrong voice and I thought, 'That's what I wanna go for. I wanna try to talk like that.'"

As Cody left the audition room, he was incredibly relieved.

"There's nothing like that feeling after you're done with it, good or bad, I feel great," he said.

When Cirillo, the Broadway Kid, walked up to the microphone, Pafumi greeted him with a gentle roast.

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