Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Ford’s The Wiz Remains Relevant

Ford’s Theatre is inviting audiences to “ease on down the road” with a new staging of the Tony-winning musical The Wiz, directed by Kent Gash and playing March 9 to May 12.

The Wiz is a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the context of modern African American culture, differing from the Judy Garland-led Wizard of Oz movie people know so well.

The musical originally made its Broadway debut in 1975, winning seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and its source material is obviously much older. Still, Gash says, the show is relatable to modern audiences.

“I think it’s always relevant to celebrate home and family, and the love and care in which we bring up our children in the community,” he says. “At a time when all around us we see examples of great cruelty and disrespect, particularly to women, here is a story that has always been about a magical and powerful young girl who goes to a place and helps lots of people get what they want.”

While there is no significant update to the script, the director notes that the design work and creative elements will be teased more for a 2018 audience, with little things such as the way relationships are played out. Of course, Gash didn’t want to mess too much with the script, as The Wiz is a cult classic and traditionalists want to see and hear the songs they love the way they remember them.

“The music of the show has always been great and has never gone out of style,” he says. “It’s the power of great pop, jazz, R&B and the roots of African music. What we are attempting to do is honor the impulses and great creativity of the original production that was led by the genius renaissance painter, choreographer, director [and] costume designer Geoffrey Holder.”

Even theatre lovers may not realize that Holder is the only person in Broadway history to win Tony Awards for both Best Directing and Best Costumes; those Wiz outfits are currently on display near Ford’s at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Wiz is a celebration of African American culture and excellence, and we will pay homage throughout our work to great artists of the Harlem Renaissance, Michael Jackson, James Brown and nightclub culture,” Gash continues. “This show was a revolution on Broadway. As Lin-Manuel Miranda says in Hamilton: ‘Who tells your story is every bit as important as what that story is.’”

Whether one knows The Wizard of Oz or the film version of The Wiz, there’s few who don’t know the story of how Dorothy gets swept away from her Kansas home to the magical world of Oz and meets a scarecrow, tinman and cowardly lion on her way down the yellow brick road to meet the Wizard.

The production features Ines Nassara as Dorothy, Hasani Allen as Scarecrow, Kevin McAllister as Tinman, Christopher Michael Richardson as Lion and Jobari Parker-Namdar as the Wiz. Nassara, a Helen Hayes-nominated actress for her work in Keegan Theatre’s Hair back in 2015, is excited to take on the role of Dorothy.

“It’s always great to see a very brave leading character who is a female and a person of color,” Nassara says. “I think it’s very inspiring and very telling of its time. With all the conversations happening now with Time’s Up and fiery conversations, it’s nice to see a character who is very open to anyone, no matter what they look like or what their story is. She’s very open to help.”

That’s a message that the actress feels needs to be expressed in today’s world – especially to younger audiences.

“Starting at a young age, it’s really important to know that it does take a village and if you see someone else in need, it’s great to lend that helping hand because they will be open to helping you as well. That will help shape the future for when they become adults.”

Nassara says everything in the production is very Afrocentric.

“We visit all of the black styles throughout this show, and there are amazing arrangements that uplift the show and make them more funky. There’s still what people are familiar with but texturized in a way that’s better for our cast.”

Gash says this is a show that people of all ages can see, with a message that will resonate with everyone.

“It’s a story about home and a young girl with a magical ability to help other people and discovers a great deal of who she is by going through this adventure,” he says. “Home is not only a place you leave, but a place you carry in your heart. That combined with a celebration of African American excellence in creativity, design, music and choreography makes this a party everyone will want to take part in.”

The Wiz runs at Ford’s Theatre from March 9 to May 12. Tickets start at $27. Check www.fords.org for details on Under 35 Nights.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org