For more than a century, Frank L. Baum’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” has been a celebrated story that has inspired dozens of iterations, adaptations, and re-imaginings, from the beloved MGM film starring Judy Garland, to animated versions, to current Broadway hit “Wicked.”
But in the 1970s, “The Wiz” came seemingly out of nowhere to hit Broadway like a gale force wind and swept Broadway audiences off their feet with a hip, soulful mix of R&B, disco, and gospel-type music. With its central themes of home, self-reliance, and courage, “The Wiz” is fairly true to the original storyline, but with a style all its own.
The Oak Ridge Playhouse production is going a step further and embracing that 1970s style by conceiving Dorothy’s trip to Oz as a disco fantasy with a pulsing light show and groovy costumes and wigs by Virginia Baldwin and Sandra Herrera.
“If you love ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you will love this show,” says Managing Artistic Director Reggie Law. “And if you would love a fresher take on ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you will love this show.”
The production was a landmark in the 1970s for being the first big Broadway blockbuster featuring an entirely African-American cast and quickly was sent into production as a feature film starring major recording artists and actors like Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, and Lena Horne.
Perhaps because of the show’s origins, there is a popular belief that “The Wiz” must be cast all with people of color. Law doesn’t think that holds as true these days.
“Over time the culture of music has really mixed. Plus, I believe in non-traditional casting except where race is a plot point,” he says. “In ‘The Wiz,’ it isn’t. So, we have a great mix of performers and artists in our show.”
Directed by Reggie Law, with musical direction by Sheryl Howard, and choreography by Tony Williams, the impressive and diverse cast is led by Playhouse newcomer Alexis Tidwell as Dorothy, whose powerhouse voice is packed into a petite body. Other principal roles include Tony Williams as the Scarecrow, Kirk Hoxie as the Tin Man, Cavanaugh Mims as the Lion, and Evelyn Jack, who knocked Playhouse audiences out of their seats as Motormouth Maybelle in last season’s “Hairspray” returns as Glinda, the Good Witch.
Presented by CapitalMark Bank & Trust, “The Wiz” opens Friday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m., followed by a performance on Saturday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m.
There will be a Thanksgiving night performance on Thursday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m. as well as shows on Friday, Nov. 23, and Saturday, Nov. 24, at 8 p.m., with a Sunday matinee on Nov. 25 at 2 p.m. Final performances are Friday, Nov, 30, and Saturday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m., and a Sunday matinee on Dec. 2 at 2 p.m.
For more information, log on to www.orplayhouse.com or call (865) 482-9999. Tickets range in price from $16 to $22 depending on performance date. This production is also made possible through support from WUOT 91.9 FM and the Tennessee Arts Commission.