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Monday, June 17, 2024

‘The Wiz’

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Get ready to “Ease On Down the Road” with Dorothy and friends as the American Cabaret Theater presents “The Wiz.”

This stage production will be shown from now until Sunday, Aug. 17, with shows running each Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees will be shown at 3 p.m.

“The Wiz” is an “urbanized” retelling of L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel The Wizard of Oz, which was made into a legendary 1939 film.

Bob Harbin, ACT’s creative director, said the theater is excited to offer a classic production to a new generation of viewers.

“Our goal is to present this wonderful, classic production with an exciting, multicultural cast in a way that maintains ACT’s commitment to youth and youth programs,” said Harbin.

In keeping with that commitment, Harbin assembled a cast of individuals who are mostly under the age of 21. A majority of the actors have already performed in several stage productions at other venues throughout the city and with ACT’s 2007 run of “High School Musical.”

“We chose ‘The Wiz’ because we were looking for a show that had a large cast and could inspire involvement from a number of young people, and Bob likes to do experimental things you don’t see in the area all the time,” said Clark Foster, box office manager for ACT.

“The Wiz,” written by William F. Brown and Joel Schumacher, made its debut on Broadway in 1975 and was one of the first large scale musicals to feature an all African-American cast.

Presented through over 1,600 shows during its successful original run, the production earned Tony Awards (the most prestigious theater awards) for “Best Musical” and “Best Original Score.”

It was also the template for the 1978 film “The Wiz,” which has become somewhat of a cult classic and featured an all-star cast including Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Richard Pryor as The Wiz.

Both the stage and film versions are best remembered by audiences for the Quincy Jones produced song “Ease on Down the Road,” a R&B flavored boogie jam sung by Dorothy and friends as they danced down the Yellow Brick Road.

Fans of the stage production may also recall singer Stephanie Mills performing the lead role as Dorothy before she went on to success as an R&B star in the 1980s. The song “Home,” which Dorothy sings shortly before she leaves the land of Oz, has become a signature classic that audiences still expect to hear from Mills.

“The Wiz” was shown in theaters in America and Europe from 1975 to 1979, and laid a foundation of success for such predominantly African-American productions such as “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” “Dreamgirls” and “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies.”

After a brief return to theaters in 1984 “The Wiz” disappeared from major venues for the next 20 years until it was revived in 2006 by Tony Award winning director Des McAnuff, Harold Wheeler, orchestrator of the original production, and actor David Alan Grier.

Now ACT has joined a handful of theaters across the country that are bringing “The Wiz” to local viewers so once again families can enjoy the fun, magic and important lessons on friendship shown by the timeless production.

“It’s been a long time since ‘The Wiz’ has been shown here in Indianapolis,” said Foster. “So we’re very excited to bring it back.”

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