Forty-five years after “The Wiz” opened for the first time at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore, the soulful remix of the classic children’s book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” is coming to Indianapolis for five showings Sept. 28-Oct. 4 at Athenaeum Theatre, 401 E. Michigan St.
For older African Americans, “The Wiz” represented one of the first times an all-Black cast got to perform together at a high level. And they did it while adapting one of the most famous books, films and musicals in American history.
But younger African Americans may not understand or fully appreciate this history, director Dee Duvall worries. In fact, she said, many don’t even know what “The Wiz” is.
“For us, it is restoring the history of the show, simply because the generations today, they’re not exposed to what we were exposed to back in the day,” she said. “The idea of bringing this production back to the city of Indianapolis … is really to bring awareness to the community.”
Younger generations can’t be faulted for not knowing every significant cultural moment that their parents and grandparents experienced firsthand, but some traditions are worth reviving to ensure that — even as they may change — there’s an appreciation for the traditions they come from.
If any story is a testament to the idea of changing, it should be “The Wiz,” which essentially tells the same story as “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” but in the context of modern African American culture. Of course, that culture changes over time.
Duvall wants audiences — especially the younger people — to remember why “The Wiz” is important, the iconic stars who’ve played in those roles over the years and maybe even the upbeat “Ease on Down the Road” tune written by Charlie Smalls.
There’s also a film version of “The Wiz,” released by Universal Pictures in 1978. The all-Black cast featured Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as Scarecrow.
Angela Amos, who’s also a gospel artist, is excited to play Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, because it’s the same role Lena Horne played in the movie.
“Glinda, she’s sweet and she’s very grand,” Amos said. “She’s deemed to be the prettiest witch in the land.”
“The Wizard of Oz” — the classic 1939 film — was one of her favorite movies as a kid, and she loved Glinda, played by Billie Burke.
“It’s funky, it’s fun, it’s down to Earth,” Amos said. “It makes you laugh. It makes you cry.
“My mind has been blown with the talent we have in this city.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
The classic musical with a soulful twist has five showings coming up.
When: 3 p.m. Sept. 28
8 p.m. Sept. 28, Oct. 5
4 p.m. Sept. 29, Oct. 6
Where: Athenaeum Theatre, 401 E. Michigan St.
Tickets: VIP $40, individual $30, student $20 at ipacindy.tix.com