I went to see “The Wiz: A Celebration of Music and Dance” on Wednesday at SummerStage, and it was fabulous. If you haven’t read my interview with Danni Gee, the SummerStage curator for this production, check it out for a little more background.
From the minute my friend and I arrived at Rumsey Playfield we could tell that people were excited for this special event, a true celebration of the fortieth anniversary of The Wiz on Broadway. The show was hosted by choreographer George Faison and Phylicia Rashad, a munchkin from the original cast, and when George Faison came out on the stage to open the evening, he was greeted like a rock star, with cheers and a standing ovation.
And here’s the thing — he IS a rock star, and so is the show. As he reminded us, The Wiz is the ONLY black musical to win a Tony for Best Musical. Danni Gee mentioned that it was her first Broadway musical, and I realized on Wednesday that, like at last week’s performance of Beautiful, this was an audience that had grown up with this music. Only with this performance, the audience had also grown up with the show itself, the story it told, and the historical significance of a musical featuring a black cast winning seven Tony awards. As I looked around I was struck by how focused and intent so many people were, how people sang along and cheered their favorite parts, or shushed people who were talking or blocking their view.
Basically I got to see The Wiz with a couple thousand people who were getting to see their very favorite show, with their heroes, for free, in Central Park. (Imagine me seeing Norbert Leo Butz and multiply it by 4,000 and you’re starting to get an idea of the energy that was in that audience.) This was my first experience with The Wiz and I loved it! The music was so fun, the dancing was awesome, and the performances were lovely. I immediately wanted to listen to the cast recording and check out the movie. I’ll be so excited, too, to watch the NBC Live performance this fall — and maybe to get to see the show on Broadway next season!
The dancing was INSANE, as you can see from these photos of one of the intricately-staged tornado sequence. Look at the image above and imagine all of these dancers whirling around the stage. They were fast (note the blurs — my camera skills are still developing!) and intense and stunning.
Dorothy embodies sweetness and strength, yearning home, supporting her friends, standing up to the Wiz and to Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West. Darlesia Cearcy gave a lovely, compelling performance as Dorothy, with Inaya Day of the revival cast stepping in to sing two songs beautifully.
Dorothy finds support with Addaperle, the witch of the North (Ebony Jo-Ann of the revival cast), who gives her the silver slippers . . .
. . . and from the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, the friends she makes along the way.
She’ll need their help in dealing with the Wiz, who can be a bit tricky, and was performed by André De Shields, the original Wiz, with heart, soul, and some really amazing dance moves in some amazingly tall shoes.
But Dorothy’s greatest help of all comes from Glinda, whose song “If You Believe” was performed by the incredible Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Thanks to SummerStage for offering me press access to this performance, and for providing me with a few amazing photos by photographer Michael Seto! As you can see, I had an amazing time at this performance.
If you’re looking for awesome free events to check out here in the city, take a look at the SummerStage calendar — you won’t be disappointed!