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November 17, 2010

Young actress is a real 'Wiz'

Christian Anthony's face lights up when she talks about performing. An 18-year-old senior at Charlotte Latin School, she's been singing, dancing and acting since she was 8 years old.

Christian Anthony's face lights up when she talks about performing. An 18-year-old senior at Charlotte Latin School, she's been singing, dancing and acting since she was 8 years old.

"I come from such a musical family, that (performing) just felt natural," said Anthony.

Her first theater production was "Annie, Jr." at Central Piedmont Community College. She played the part of an orphan named January.

Her next role took her from the local stage to a much larger one.

In 2004, while working at the African American Cultural Center, Anthony's mother, Dawn, saw an advertisement for auditions for the Broadway production of "The Lion King." She approached her daughter with the opportunity. Dawn, who performed with Opera Carolina, encouraged Anthony to audition.

"I was only 11 years old, so I wasn't sure if I could do it," said Anthony. "But we just looked at it as a 'lets have fun and see what happens' kind of thing."

Anthony, along with her mother and two uncles, traveled to New York City to audition for the show. A few weeks later, they learned that Anthony was chosen to play Nala the lion cub, best friend and romantic interest of Simba, the show's lead role.

"When my mom got the call, my sister, grandmother and I were all in the car," said Anthony. "Mom pulled the car over, handed the phone to me and then we all started screaming."

Unfamiliar with Broadway, Anthony and her mother set out for Manhattan. Although Anthony was in the middle of her fifth-grade year, she managed to balance the life of a Broadway star with school work.

"My teacher would come up (to New York) and give me my quarterly assessments," said Anthony. "She graded my final exam right in front of me, and I literally sat there and watched to see if I would go on to the middle school or not."

Anthony describes her time on Broadway as "simply awesome."

"Being exposed to so many artists and cultures was incredible," she said. "It made me realize that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

Anthony performed four shows a week for six months before returning to Charlotte.

Now in her last year at Charlotte Latin, Anthony has 12 theater productions on her resume, including two operas she performed in with her mother.

Before she graduates in May, Anthony wanted to get one final show under her belt. As a member of the music and theater departments at Charlotte Latin, she will perform in "The Wiz" opening on Nov. 19.

When she first came to Charlotte Latin during her sophomore year, Anthony wondered if they would perform "The Wiz." It was her favorite musical as a child.

"I couldn't believe that in my senior year, it would actually happen," she said.

Anthony originally wasn't going to audition for the part of Dorothy, but for the part of Evillene, the play's version of the Wicked Witch of the West from "The Wizard of Oz."

"I wanted something more challenging than Dorothy, and I had never played a villain," said Anthony. "But once I heard that Stephanie Mills was coming (to visit Charlotte Latin), I thought if I played Dorothy, I could get real insight into performing."

Stephanie Mills, who originally played Dorothy in the 1975 Broadway production of "The Wiz," visited the high school cast in late October.

Anthony, who had landed the role of Dorothy, sang "Home" for Mills.

The ballad, which is the last song Dorothy sings in the show, moved both Mills and Anthony to tears.

"I couldn't help it - I just lost it," said Anthony. "Seeing her was the highlight of my senior year. I couldn't believe that an original cast member of a show I've seen since I was a little girl was standing right there listing to me sing."

Through tears, Anthony recalls the opportunities she's had attending Charlotte Latin.

"I would have never had (these opportunities) if it hadn't been for my mom," she said. "I've done so many great things and have a lot of close relationships because she pushed me to do it."

Anthony said her mom is her biggest inspiration. Dawn performs jazz music in Charlotte while raising both Anthony and her younger sister. She also has two stepsons who are in college.

"She's the busiest person I know, but she still takes the time to help when I'm down," she said. "She's why I am where I am today."

Anthony also credits her faith for her achievements and said that it's an important part of her life. She attends Steele Creek Church of Charlotte and sings in the youth choir.

"Church is my release," she said. "It's how I balance school, rehearsal, homework and everything else. It all seems to work itself out."

For Anthony, performing in "The Wiz" is her performance life coming full circle.

Ron Chisolm, who directed Anthony first show, is now directing the last play she'll ever do as a student in Charlotte.

"He's been there from the beginning. He's seen me grow," said Anthony. "It's very touching."

After she graduates in May, Anthony hopes to attend Elon University or Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. She wants to major in music theater.

"I want to get back on Broadway," said Anthony. "I've heard how intense and hard the audition process is, but I can't wait to do it."

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