It’s a familiar story that has endeared families for decades. Based on the original book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by William F. Brown, The Wiz opens the 54th season at Players by the Sea Theatre Sept. 20 with a soulful trip down the Yellow Brick Road. The musical features many of the same characters later reprised in the film The Wiz but with a decidedly 70’s urban twist.
Directed by Jereme Raickett, The Wiz is an urban retelling of the classic children’s novel in the context of modern African-American culture featuring a funk, gospel and soulful score. A reimagining of L. Frank Baum‘s classic 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz featuring an all-black cast, the film was loosely adapted from the 1974 Broadway musical of the same name.
The production follows the adventures of Dorothy, a shy, 24-year-old Harlem schoolteacher who finds herself magically transported to the urban fantasy Land of Oz, which resembles a dream version of New York City. Befriended by a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion, she travels through the city to seek an audience with the mysterious Wiz, who they say is the only one powerful enough to send her home.
“It’s nothing like the movie. It had the same basic storyline but it takes us back to Broadway in the 1970’s. We really are embracing the culture of the 70’s from music, costumes and the dancing. This is the first time having an orchestra on stage so we’ve embraced the music itself while allowing the movement of that time to push the story forward,” says Raickett of the film starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Theresa Merritt, Thelma Carpenter, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor.
“As a black artist in Jacksonville, I don’t feel that culture in general is embraced as much as it should be in our theatre community. I’m thankful for the theaters who have but it’s not enough. We wanted to enhance the urban culture and tell a classic story from a different perspective.”
Raickett assembled a cast of “triple threats” to tell the story through inspired score and energetic choreography. The cast features Tota Li as Glinda; Michael Clifton-Plummer as Evillenel, Zoe Bell as Addaperle, J’Quan Jarrell as Scarecrow, Juquan Vickers as the Tinman, Tyvin McSwain as the Lion, Jadene King as Aunt Em, Walter Johnson as Uncle Henry and Sherrod Brown as The Wiz.
“They challenge you. It’s everything we’ve thrown at the cast. They have taken to that level. It’s been quite a unique experience working with this group. They are extremely collaborative and creative people. They give to the process more than I’ve seen a company give before, more than I could ever ask for as a director which makes my job easy.”
One of the last songs is “Believe in Yourself” and Raickett hopes audiences will take the message with them when they leave. “I hope this shows continues to inspire their own yellow brick road, not giving up and believing we possess the power and the strength in ourselves to follow that road whatever that may be.”