The Wiz

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The Wiz
The Super Soul Musical "Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
The Wiz (original cast recording - album cover).jpg
Original Cast Recording
Music Charlie Smalls
Timothy Graphenreed and Harold Wheeler
Luther Vandross
Lyrics Charlie Smalls
Zachary Walzer
Luther Vandross[1]
Book William F. Brown
Basis The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum
Productions 1974 Baltimore
1975 Broadway
1978 Film
1984 Broadway Revival
1984 West End
2006 San Diego
2006 the Netherlands
2009 New York City Center Encores!
Awards Tony Award for Best Musical
Tony Award for Best Original Score
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics

The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" is a musical with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and book by William F. Brown. It is a retelling of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the context of African-American culture. It opened on October 21, 1974 at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland and moved to the Majestic Theatre[2] with a new cast on January 5, 1975.

The 1975 Broadway production won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The musical was an early example of Broadway's mainstream acceptance of works with an all-black cast. The musical has had revivals in New York, London, San Diego and the Netherlands, and a limited-run revival was presented by Encores! at New York City Center in June 2009. A film adaptation was released in 1978.

Tryouts and Broadway[edit]

The idea for the musical originated with producer Ken Harper. He replaced the original director, Gilbert Moses, with Geoffrey Holder in Detroit during out-of-town tryouts.

The original Baltimore cast included Renee Harris as Dorothy, Charles Valentino as the Scarecrow, Ben Harney as the Tin Man, Ken Prymus as the Cowardly Lion, and Butterfly McQueen as the Queen of the Field Mice. Only Harney would remain in the Broadway cast, but in a much smaller role. Harris stayed on as understudy for the role of Dorothy, as did McQueen for the role of Addaperle.

The musical opened on January 5, 1975 at the Majestic Theatre, with Geoffrey Holder as director and the following cast:[3]

After drawing mixed critical reviews, producer Ken Harper considered closing the show after its Broadway opening night. One source attributes its turnaround success to a publicity campaign that included a TV commercial featuring the cast singing "Ease On Down the Road," a song that proved so popular that it was released as a single recorded by the disco group Consumer Rapport;[4] The single hit the Billboard Soul Singles chart, peaking at #19 and the Hot 100, peaking at #42.[5]

William F. Brown, who wrote the book, gave a more specific explanation in 1993: "20th Century-Fox, the show's major investor, put in another $100,000 to keep it going and everyone agreed to royalty cuts until the productions cost—about $1.1 million—was recouped....By the eighth week, we were selling out."[6]

The Broadway production moved to The Broadway Theatre on May 25, 1977, and closed on January 28, 1979, after four years and 1,672 performances.[3]

Along with other musicals including Purlie (1971) and Raisin (1974), The Wiz was a breakthrough for Broadway, a large-scale big-budget musical featuring an all-black cast. It laid the foundation for later African-American hits such as Bubbling Brown Sugar, Dreamgirls and Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies.

National tour and later revival[edit]

The musical toured the US in 1976[7] and during the tour, Kenneth Kamal Scott replaced Andre DeShields as the Wiz, Stephanie Mills was replaced by Renee Harris, who was herself replaced in 1978 by Deborah Malone and subsequently Dorothy was portrayed by Ren Woods for the Los Angeles run at the Ahmanson Theater, where the 19-year-old made a big impression on Hollywood, casting her in the Miloš Forman film Hair. Critics at the time compared her most favorably to Mills,[citation needed] who created the role on Broadway.

A revival ran on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre from May 24, 1984, through June 3, 1984, closing after 13 performances and 7 previews. Directed by Geoffrey Holder, the cast featured Stephanie Mills as Dorothy. It then ran in London at the Lyric Hammersmith from December 11, 1984, through February 2, 1985.[8] A planned 2004 Broadway revival[9] was not produced.[10]

From 1996-97 there was another US national tour with Tasha Scott as Dorothy, Grace Jones (Evillene), Peabo Bryson (The Wiz), and CeCe Peniston as Glinda. The cast also featured Tony Terry as the Tin Man. Romelda Benjamin also played Aunt Em.

Other productions[edit]

A production ran at the La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego, from September 26, 2006, through November 12, 2006, receiving good reviews and extending its run by three weeks. It was directed by Des McAnuff, who, with Harold Wheeler, orchestrator of the original Broadway version, revised the musical for contemporary audiences. It starred Nikki M. James (Dorothy), E. Faye Butler (Evelline) and David Alan Grier (The Wiz), and featured sets by Robert Brill.[11][12]

Dodger Productions holds U.S. rights to revive The Wiz, while Joop Van den Ende's Stage Entertainment holds the European rights.[13] Stage Entertainment mounted a full-scale production at the Beatrix Theater in Utrecht, Netherlands, in 2006. The production was directed by Glenn Casale and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast and featured sets by David Gallo.[13]

City Center's Encores! Summer Stars series production ran June 12 through July 5, 2009. The production was directed by Thomas Kail and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. It starred Ashanti as Dorothy, Tichina Arnold as Evillene, Dawnn Lewis as Miss One, Joshua Henry as the Tin Man, Orlando Jones (succeeded by Colman Domingo) as The Wiz, and LaChanze as Aunt Em and Glinda.[14]

A major British revival of The Wiz was mounted in 2011 by Birmingham Rep[15] in a co-production with the West Yorkshire Playhouse.[16] This production was directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo, with choreography by Paul J. Medford.

The first German-speaking production will be produced in Linz/Austria in the new Musiktheater Linz.[17] The production will be directed and choreographed by Kim Duddy.

Plot[edit]

Prologue[edit]

Dorothy is seen with her Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and dog, Toto, on their farm in Kansas. She expresses her desire to get away from the farm life and see distant lands. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry urge her to stay, telling her that she has everything that she could ever want here at home ("The Feeling We Once Had").

Act I[edit]

A tornado hits and lifts the farmhouse, with Dorothy inside, right up into the air ("Tornado"). It comes to rest with a bump, in the middle of an emerald green field covered with flowers. There she is met by the Munchkins who are all dressed in blue, and Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North, who tells her that her house has fallen on the Wicked Witch of the East, and killed her, freeing the Munchkins from her evil powers. Dorothy, distressed and confused, wants only to return to Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and Toto in Kansas, and Addaperle decides her best bet is to go and see the great and powerful Wizard of Oz ("He's the Wizard"). She gives her the Witch of the East's silver shoes, and tells her not to take them off before she reaches home, for they hold a very powerful charm.

Dorothy sets off down the yellow brick road, full of doubt and fear at what lies ahead ("Soon As I Get Home"). Stopping to rest by a cornfield, she is startled when a Scarecrow hanging on a pole strikes up a conversation with her ("I Was Born the Day Before Yesterday"). He tells her of his longing for brains so that he can be like other people, and she invites him to accompany her to see if Oz can help him ("Ease On Down the Road #1").

The yellow brick road leads them into a great forest where they discover a man made of tin, rusted solid. They oil his joints ("Slide Some Oil To Me") and he tells them how, to prevent him from marrying a servant girl, the Wicked Witch of the East put a spell on his axe so that it began to cut off parts of his body. Each time it happened, a tinsmith replaced the missing part with one made of tin until he was entirely made of it. The one thing the tinsmith forgot was a heart, and the Tin Man has longed for one ever since. Dorothy and the Scarecrow invite him on their journey to see the Wizard with the hope that he may give him one ("Ease On Down the Road #2").

The yellow brick road leads them into a dark jungle where they are attacked by a large lion ("I'm a Mean Ole Lion"), but are unharmed because he is a coward. When he learns where they are going, he asks if he may accompany them to ask the Wizard for some courage. They agree and the trio becomes a quartet ("Ease On Down the Road #3"), but face a new danger when they are attacked by half-tiger, half-bear creatures called Kalidahs ("Kalidah Battle"). After a great fight and harrowing escape, they stop by the road to rest. The Lion is embarrassed by his cowardice in the battle, but is comforted by Dorothy's kind words ("Be a Lion").

Seeing a green glow in the distance, they continue their journey to the Emerald City, and wander into a field of poppies who blow opium dust on them. Not being made of flesh, the Scarecrow and Tin Man are unaffected, but Dorothy and the Lion begin to become disoriented and drowsy. Dorothy recalls that the Munchkins warned her of the dangerous poppies, and runs from the field as fast as she can with the Scarecrow and Tin Man behind her. The Lion is overcome by the dust and begins to hallucinate ("Lion's Dream"). He is dragged from the field and returned to his friends by the Field Mice who police the area.

Marching up to the gates of the beautiful Emerald City, they are met by the Gatekeeper who insists they must all be fitted with a pair of green tinted glasses that are locked on to prevent their eyes from being blinded by the dazzling sights. They enter the city and look about in awe at the richly dressed people that inhabit this magnificent place ("Emerald City Ballet"). The haughty and condescending people laugh and ridicule this odd party for wanting to see the Wizard until they see that Dorothy is wearing the Witch of the East's silver shoes. The quartet is shown right into his palace.

Once in the throne room, they are assaulted by a great show of lights, smoke, and pyrotechnics as the Wizard appears in several forms before them ("So You Wanted To See the Wizard"). They each plead their case to him, and the Tin Man imagines how life would be with a heart ("What Would I Do If I Could Feel"). He agrees on one condition: they must kill Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West. Dorothy and her companions sink to the floor in tears as their goals seem farther off than ever.

Act II[edit]

Evillene rules over the yellow land of the west, enslaving its people, the Winkies. She is evil, power hungry to get what she wants ("Winkie Chant/Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News"). Seeing Dorothy and her odd friends approach, she sends her Winged Monkeys to kill them ("Funky Monkeys"). They dash the Tin Man against rocks until he can no longer move and rip the straw out of the Scarecrow also leaving him helpless. Seeing Dorothy's silver shoes, they dare not harm her. They carry her and the Lion to Evillene's castle instead. While searching for a way to get the powerful shoes from Dorothy, she forces her and the Lion to work doing menial chores. She takes delight in torturing the Lion before Dorothy which angers her. She picks up a bucket of water and throws it at her. She melts until there is just a wet, gold cap on the floor. Her spell on the Winkies is lifted, and they show their thanks by restoring the Scarecrow and Tin Man to top condition, and reuniting the four friends ("Everybody Rejoice").

Returning to the Emerald City, they see the Wizard (now a booming voice that seems to come from the very air). He reneges on his promise, and the Lion knocks over a screen in anger. Behind it stands a bewildered man who claims to be the real Wizard ("Who Do You Think You Are?"). He shows them the elaborate mechanical effects used to create his illusions, and tells them that he is really a balloonist from Omaha who traveled to Oz by accident when his hot air balloon drifted off course. The people of Oz had never seen such a sight and proclaimed him Wizard. Not wanted to disappoint them, he assumed the role and had a great city built. He then had everyone in it wear green glasses, and in time, the people came to believe it was green.

The angry quartet confronts the Wizard on his deceptions, but he points out that the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion already have the things they seek as shown in their behavior on the journeys they have made ("Believe In Yourself"). They remain unconvinced so he creates physical symbols of their desires and they are satisfied. He proposes that Dorothy can return to Kansas the way he came, and offers to pilot her in his hot air balloon. He addresses the citizens of the Emerald City in person for the first time in many years, telling him of his imminent journey, and leaving the clever Scarecrow in charge ("Y'all Got It!"). Just as his speech reaches its climax, the balloon comes free from its moorings and rises quickly into the air, taking Dorothy's hopes of getting home with it.

There is a flash of light and Addaperle appears, suggesting that Dorothy ask Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, for help. She transports them to Glinda's palace in the red land of the south ("A Rested Body Is a Rested Mind"). Glinda is a beautiful and gracious sorceress, surrounded by a court of pretty girls. She tells Dorothy that the silver shoes have always had the power to take her home, but like her friends, she needed to believe that fact before it was possible ("If You Believe"). She bids a tearful goodbye to her companions, and as their faces fade into the darkness, she thinks about what she has learned, gained, and lost ("Home"). She taps the heels of the silver shoes together three times, and as Toto jumps into her arms, licking her face, she knows that she is back home at last ("Finale").

Motion picture[edit]

For more details on this topic, see The Wiz (film).

Motown Productions acquired the film rights to The Wiz in 1977, and signed Stephanie Mills in anticipation of having her star as Dorothy in the film adaptation. Motown singer and actress Diana Ross asked Motown CEO Berry Gordy to cast her instead, but he declined, feeling that the then-33-year-old Ross was far too old for the part. However, she contacted Rob Cohen of Universal Pictures, who offered to have them finance the film if she were to play Dorothy, at which point he acquiesced.

The resulting film version of The Wiz also starred former Motown star Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, Richard Pryor as the Wizard, jazz singer Thelma Carpenter as Miss One and Lena Horne as Glinda. Ted Ross and Mabel King reprised their roles of the Cowardly Lion and Evillene from the Broadway production. Sidney Lumet served as director, working with screenwriter Joel Schumacher (who used none of Brown's stage script) and music supervisor Quincy Jones. The film was a critical and commercial failure, performing poorly at the box office and severely panned by critics, who branded the casting of Ross instead of Mills as Dorothy a disastrous blunder.[18][19]

Cast[edit]

Leads[edit]

Role Voice Part Performer Company(ies)
Dorothy Alto with strong belt Stephanie Mills Broadway, Road Tour
Renee Harris Road Tour
Deborah Malone Road Tour
Ren Woods LA Company
Scarecrow Tenor Hinton Battle Broadway, Road Tour
Tin Man Baritone Tiger Haynes Broadway
Lion Baritone Ted Ross Broadway, LA Company, Film
Aunt Em Mezzo Soprano Tasha Thomas Broadway
Glinda Alto Dee Dee Bridgewater Broadway
The Wiz Tenor André DeShields Broadway, LA Company
Kamal Scott Broadway, Road Tour
Evillene Alto Mabel King Broadway, Film
Addaperle Mezzo Soprano Clarice Taylor Broadway

Supporting Roles[edit]

Original Broadway Cast

  • Uncle Henry/High Underling: Ralph Wilcox
  • Tornado: Evelyn Thomas
  • Royal Gatekeeper: Danny Beard
  • Messenger: Carl Weaver
  • Winged Monkey: Andy Torres

Songs[edit]

"Tornado" is composed by Timothy Graphenreed and Harold Wheeler. "Emerald City Ballet" is composed by Graphenreed and George Faison. "Everybody Rejoice" is composed by Luther Vandross.

Scoring for The Wiz calls for keyboard (played by the conductor), bass, guitar, drums, percussion, four woodwind players, horn, three trumpets, two trombones, two violins, and cello.[20][21]

Critical reception[edit]

In his review of the 1984 revival, Frank Rich wrote: "What made The Wiz surprisingly moving the first time around was that its creators found a connection between Baum's Kansas fantasy and the pride of urban black Americans. When Glinda, the good witch, musically instructed Dorothy to 'believe in herself,' she seemed to be delivering a broader inspirational message. The Wiz was hardly a great musical in 1975, but it had something to say, and it said it with verve and integrity. It's depressing to watch a once-fervent expression of black self-respect and talent be spilled on the stage as if it were a trunkload of marked-down, damaged goods."[22]

In their review of the 2006 La Jolla production, Variety wrote: "'The Wiz' remains a collage of contemporary slang and imagery, but La Jolla's is a multicultural collage in which Baum's themes speak to the broadest possible audience. Unquestionably, the humor and the heartbeat of the piece remain African-American at their source, but the overall effect is pluralistic and inclusive. In the truest and most positive sense of the phrase, McAnuff's show is color-blind. Every alteration from the 1975 original, inspired by the central multicultural concept, is salutary. Brown's almost wholly rewritten script is tart and funny at last. Smalls' score—supervised by musical director Ron Melrose and original orchestrator Harold Wheeler—sounds fresh and contemporary.".[23] The Wiz has been produced around the world, upcoming NYC productions include Little Radical Theatrics' production which runs July 19–21 in Pleasantville, NY.[24]

Recording[edit]

The Original Cast recording was released in 1975 on the Atlantic label, ASIN: B000V6AS46. While being well produced and well received, it is missing several key songs from the musical that were apparently never recorded.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1975 Tony Award Best Musical Won
Best Book of a Musical William F. Brown Nominated
Best Original Score Charlie Smalls Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Ted Ross Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Dee Dee Bridgewater Won
Best Direction of a Musical Geoffrey Holder Won
Best Choreography George Faison Won
Best Costume Design Geoffrey Holder Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Musical Won
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Stephanie Mills Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical Ted Ross Won
Hinton Battle Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Mabel King Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical Geoffrey Holder Nominated
Outstanding Choreography Won
Outstanding Music and Lyrics Charlie Smalls Won
Outstanding Set Design Tom H. John Nominated
Outstanding Costume Design Geoffrey Holder Won

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.lasvegascitylife.com/articles/2009/02/20/ae/picks/doc499f43b56eb22687123341.txt
  2. ^ This was not the same Majestic Theatre that played The Wizard of Oz in 1903, which was on Columbus Circle, where Time Warner Center now stands.
  3. ^ a b The Wiz (1975 production) at the Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved on 2013-04-21.
  4. ^ Green, Kay, Broadway Musicals, Show by Show (1996), Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 0-7935-7750-0, p. 241.
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 132. 
  6. ^ Klein, Alvin (February 7, 1993). "Dorothy and Wiz Hip-Hop Into the 90's". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  7. ^ "The Wiz (1st National Tour, 1976)". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  8. ^ "Chronology of London Shows". The Guide to Musical Theatre. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  9. ^ Robert Simonson, "The Wiz to Get New Broadway Revival in 2004; McAnuff to Direct", Playbill.com, April 9, 2003.
  10. ^ "Des McAnuff Tapped for Dodgers Wiz Revival". Archived from the original on 2009-03-05. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  11. ^ Portantiere, Michael. "Brady, Burgess, Grier, James, Pettiford, Washington to Star in La Jolla's The Wiz". Theater Mania. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  12. ^ Stevens, Rob. "The Wiz". Theater Mania. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Lampert-Gréaux, Ellen. "Wiz Kids". Live Design. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  14. ^ Gans, Andrew. "The Wiz Ends Limited City Center Engagement July 5". Playbill. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  15. ^ "The Wiz at Birmingham Repertory Theatre". Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  16. ^ "The Wiz – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds", The Public Reviews.
  17. ^ "The Wiz at Musiktheater Linz". Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  18. ^ Sharp, Kathleen (2003), Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood: Edie and Lew Wasserman and Their Entertainment Empire, Carroll & Graf Publishers, pp. 357–58.
  19. ^ Harpole, Charles (2003), History of the American Cinema, Simon and Schuster, pp. 64, 65, 219, 220, 290.
  20. ^ "The Wiz". Samuel French. Samuel French. Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  21. ^ Pimentel, Bret. "The Wiz". Woodwind Doubling in Broadway Musicals. Bret Pimentel. Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  22. ^ Frank Rich, "Stage: 'The Wiz' Back on Broadway", New York Times, May 25, 1984.
  23. ^ Verini, Bob. "The Wiz". Variety. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  24. ^ http://www.littleradicaltheatrics.com

External links[edit]