Durham County

‘What’s Happening’ star ‘Raj’ to headline opening night at Hillside High

Pictured is the cast and crew of the 1970s hit TV comedy “What’s Happening,” featuring Ernest Thomas as Roger (Raj) pictured here wearing glasses.
Pictured is the cast and crew of the 1970s hit TV comedy “What’s Happening,” featuring Ernest Thomas as Roger (Raj) pictured here wearing glasses. Screen capture from video

Ernest Thomas, one of the stars of the 1970s-era sitcom “What’s Happening,” will be honored by Hillside High School on Friday, Nov. 3, during the opening night of the Drama Department’s production of “Disney High School Musical.”

The “Disney High School Musical” event will take place Friday, Nov. 3 at 7:15 p.m. The pre-show reception will begin at 6:15 p.m. Tickets are available at the door, $7 for students and seniors and $10 for adults.

The musical continues with a pair of shows Saturday and a matinee on Sunday.

Thomas captured the hearts of fans with the lead role of Roger “Raj,” a character who often found himself on the wrong side of his own belt when he got into trouble with friends Rerun and Dwayne.

The star is in town as part of Hillside Drama Director Wendell Tabb’s “Celebrities In The Classroom” Program, which seeks to connect young people with artist who have paved the way in the industry and are eager to share their knowledge of the business with high school students in the arts.

“The ‘Celebrities in the Classroom’ program continues to attract major Hollywood stars and we are so thankful for their willingness to give back,” Tabb said. “It has truly been an aspiring artist’s dream to gain firsthand knowledge from people in the business.”

Thomas made his professional debut as a Broadway actor appearing in the 1974 revival production of “Love For Love,” also in the 1975 revival production of “The Member Of The Wedding.”

And in 2005, Ernest Thomas made his comeback on television by being a recurring character in the period sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris” as the funeral director, Mr. Omar.

In addition to Thomas, actress Starletta DuPois, who is known for her memorable work in films such as the cult classic “Friday After Next,” with Ice Cube and Mike Epps, as well as “First Sunday” and Martin Lawrence’s blockbuster, “Big Momma’s House” and Petri Hawkins-Byrd, the co-host on the Emmy Award winning CBS network court drama, “Judge Judy” will be honored during the gala.

“The ‘Celebrities in the Classroom’ series has been one of the most inspiring programs at our school making a significant impact on the lives of our students who have aspirations of pursuing careers in the arts,” Hillside Principal William Logan said in a statement. “We believe it is important for students to learn from the experts as they have the most authentic experiences to share. I am confident that this year’s guests will enrich the lives of our students with their stories.”

The guest celebrities will work with Hillside drama students through Monday, Nov. 6. Drama students will also attend an acting workshop hosted by actress Natasha Williams who specializes in commercials.

In an interview DuPois, said it is an honor to be in position to share her experiences with the budding actors and actresses at Hillside.

“It’s always a two-way street,” DuPois said. “ I want to honor them with my presence and time. I owe it to them. People have done the same for me.”

DuPois worked with Hillside’s drama students on Thursday. She was impressed by their “grit and determination.”

“They are fabulous,” DuPois said. “I’m so proud of them, such gifted young people.”

Hillside will also honor noted costume designer Gregory Horton who will receive the Hillside Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Horton will share the stage with Hillside legends Joseph Mitchell, Clarke Egerton and Durham Public Schools Board of Education member Xavier Cason, all former Hillside band directors, who will receive the Hillside Legacy Award.

The school’s Community Ambassador Award will be given to Artis Plummer Sr., and posthumously to the late the late Gloria Timberlake, the school’s longtime chorale director.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

Want to Go?

Show times for “Disney High School Musical” are Saturday, Nov. 4 at 3:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 5 at 3:15 p.m.

For tickets and more information, contact Hillside High School at (919) 560-3925 x 25240 or order tickets online at www.seatyourself.biz/hillside.