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Photo: Carol Rosegg
Photo: Carol Rosegg

Trust in The Wiz at Ford’s Theatre

There’s not a moment in Ford’s Theatre’s The Wiz when you’re not exhilarated. From the instance Toto rushes across the stage to the final second Dorothy clicks her heels, the kaleidoscope of characters, colors and music inspires the audience to yelp, cheer, tap their feet, laugh and snap – it’s impossible to sit still when you’re traveling through the Wonderful World of Oz.

The Wiz, the iconic winner of seven Tony Awards, is an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which unapologetically celebrates black culture through it’s score of blues, soul, gospel, R&B, jazz and pop, in addition to its universal narrative. The Wiz isn’t a story about a young black girl overcoming slavery, extreme poverty or hardships. Rather, the story is about a young girl who happens to be black making friends and finding strength as she attempts to journey home after being whisked away by a tornado into a magical land.

“The beauty of The Wiz is its message that anything we already are is enough,” director Kent Gash explains in Ford’s press release. “Dorothy feels restless and stuck at home, but when the tornado comes through, it absolutely turns her world upside down and changes her perspective. Dorothy discovers she is smarter, more powerful and more interesting than she ever realized. She comes to understand that how she moves through the world can change lives. That is a valuable lesson for us all to celebrate.”

Ines Nassara shines as Dorothy. The moment she sings the first line on “Soon As I Get Home,” we know exactly who this character is. We feel Dorothy’s fear, excitement and resolve to succeed in her mission. At the beginning of the show, she’s still unsure of her bravery. By the time she helps her new friend, the Cowardly Lion (played exquisitely by Christopher Michael Richardson), discover his own strength in “Be a Lion,” you’ll be hard-pressed to hold back tears upon seeing this young woman stand with such power.

Hasani Allen emulates the same charm and lankiness as Michael Jackson in the same role as the Scarecrow, but his “Aw, shucks” sweetness is all his own. For lacking a heart, Tinman, as brought to life by Kevin McAllister, sings with all his soul about the eternal fear we all have about being unable to love, and being unlovable.

While the four leads of the show prove wonderful, The Wiz is a musical that needs a strong ensemble cast. Ford’s production delivers, and when the show reaches its peak after Evillene melts away with “Everybody Rejoice” – an exuberant song celebrating freedom and new chapters – you can’t help but revel in the joy onstage.

This production of The Wiz is a delight for any pop culture fiend. There are call-outs to Jackson 5 dance routines, Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece RevelationsWakanda, Coming to America, Flavor of Love (Flava Flav’s VH1 dating show), Paris Is Burning, Grace Jones, Prince and Purple Rain, and of course, some moonwalking thrown in for good measure.

This is a story about having the courage to trust in yourself – trusting your smarts, trusting your heart, trusting your bravery and, finally, trusting in your spirit.

The Wiz runs at Ford’s Theatre through May 12. For more information about the show or details on times, dates and tickets, click here.

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

Virginia Woolf
Photo: Christopher Mueller

DC Favorite Holly Twyford in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

When Holly Twyford stars in a DC production, local theatergoers pay attention. Add veteran director Aaron Posner and one of the most complex plays of the 20th century housed in our city’s historic Ford’s Theatre to the mix, and the crowds will come.

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will be at Ford’s through February 19, featuring an all-local cast including Twyford, Gregory Linington, Maggie Wilder and Danny Gavigan. Written in 1962, the Tony Award-winning play is set in the home of Martha and George, a middle-aged married couple with years of built up resentment toward one another. The acrimonious pair invite a younger couple, Honey and Nick, over for drinks after a faculty party. Soon, their guests are unknowingly pulled into Martha and George’s web of unhappiness.

Twyford, who plays Martha (most famously portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1966 film version), told me in a recent interview that she isn’t interested in Taylor’s interpretation of the role as she wraps her head around the character. In fact, when she mentions that she’s playing Martha and folks respond, “Oh, the Elizabeth Taylor role?”, she’s been tempted to respond with, “No, the Uta Hagen role actually.” Hagen played Martha in the 1962 Broadway production.

Instead, she’s chosen to dive into the role with few outside influences. The Helen Hayes Award winner and nominee, whose DC theatre career spans multiple decades, readily admits that she doesn’t fully understand Martha. And that’s okay.

“We’re complicated, we human beings,” Twyford says. “We are incredibly complex, and often completely paradoxical in our actions and emotions. And actors forget that sometimes. They say, ‘Well no, I need to know why I’m saying this. I need my objective. I need my motivation. I need my, you know, my verb.’”

The refreshingly honest actress and sometimes director says it has taken her a long time to learn that even as she explores a character and plumbs all of her complexities, she may still see a disconnect between the character’s behavior in different scenes, or even in the same scene. And to be comfortable with that disconnect.

As she strives to understand Martha and peel back her many layers, she’s sharing the experience with Posner. Twyford has worked with the director many times, and says its their mutual trust and open communication built over years of collaboration and friendship that has allowed them to tell this story onstage, and to tell it well. After reading lines for Woolf recently, she told Posner that just as she thought she had figured out the objective of one line, she’d read another four lines and the first wouldn’t make sense anymore. Suddenly, the lines would seem in direct contradiction to one another.

“And in some ways, that’s correct,” she says of the experience. “Because we are like that as human beings. We can change on a dime, you know? And that’s what I need to sort of keep figuring out. What is it all about? It’s really all about survival, isn’t it? What are we capable of as human beings?”

And as Twyford points out, we are capable of tremendous insult and rage, and a host of other negative emotions that are bubbling to the surface for Martha and George. Throughout the play, they say some pretty horrible, even cringeworthy, things to one another. The actress says audiences often struggle with their ruthless back-and-forth, wondering how they can say those unforgivable things and call each other such awful names.

“And yet they love each other,” she says. “They absolutely love each other, and they absolutely need each other. But in a way, they don’t think they deserve what they have. They’re in so much pain for so many reasons.”

At this point in our interview, the actress notes that our conversation is turning into a philosophical discussion. And of course, being the Twyford fangirl that I am, I loved every second of it. We kept talking, about what it means to make audiences uncomfortable by watching a play that doesn’t have a resolution, and how that can also be difficult for the players onstage. Modern-day audiences are used to seeing loose ends tied up, and Twyford fully admits those are the stories she loves too.

“I love to see good beat evil. I love to see a happy ending. And [Woolf] is not tied up at the end in a nice little bow by any means. This is a play that is really about the journey.”

Twyford is warm and cheeky and sincere, and has an infectious dry laughter that makes you feel like you’re in on something pretty remarkable. Talking to her about the human experience, and how to portray a mere snippet of one troubled couple’s incredibly contentious relationship in a three-hour play, was inspiring. She’s up to the challenge of playing Martha, and as an audience member, I can’t wait to accept the challenge of absorbing a truly human interaction and knowing full well it won’t come with a happy ending.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will be at Ford’s Theatre from January 21 to February 19. Tickets start at $15. Under 35 Night falls on February 3, and Meet and Mingle on February 12.

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


On Tap would like to congratulate Ford’s Theatre on raising more than $88,000 on behalf of local charity Food & Friends through its production of A Christmas Carol this winter. Learn more at www.fords.org.