The Wiz originally opened on Broadway in 1975. This all-black production was widely successful with its initial seven Tony wins. The cast included large names of the time, including Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, Mabel King as Evillene, Dee Dee Bridgewater as Glinda, Ted Ross as the Lion, and Tasha Thomas as Aunt Em. Other leading roles consisted of Hinton Battle as Scarecrow, Tiger Haynes as Tin Man, Clarice Taylor as Addaperle, and André DeShields as the Wiz. Mabel King and Ted Ross were the only two cast members in the original Broadway production to reprise their roles in the renowned 1978 film portrayal.
The production begins with Dorothy longing to visit a land far from her home. She argues with Aunt Em about the feasibility of her dreams. Later, a tornado hits, and Dorothy and her uncle and aunt are seen running hysterically around the stage, to simulate being swept by the storm. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry run to end of a stage and hide in a cellar, while Dorothy remains on stage being thrown around by the storm, portrayed by dancers.. After a short dancing number, she enters the house, where she is “carried” away. She awakes in Land of Oz, where she is greeted by Munchkins and Addaperle, who inform Dorothy that she has killed Evamean. Dorothy appears dazed and confused on stage, exclaiming that she wants to return home. Addaperle informs her that she must follow the Yellow Brick Road and ask the Wiz to perform this request. In the meantime, she gives Dorothy silver slippers and tells her to never take them off if she wants to return home. While on her journey down the Yellow Brick Road, she runs into Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Lion, in succession. Through multiple musical arrangements, Dorothy is informed that each newfound friend also desires something from the Wiz: brains for Scarecrow, a heart for Tin Man, and courage for the Lion. Eventually, the quartet end up in Emerald City, where they are confronted by ridicule until Dorothy’s slippers grant them access to the palace. The Wiz instructs the group that they must kill Evillene in order to have their requests fulfilled. On the way to her quarters, the group is confronted by Evillene’s Funky Monkeys, seeing riding around the stage intimidating and threatening the group. The monkeys are able to disable Tin Man and Scarecrow and proceed to bring the Lion and Dorothy to Evillene’s chambers. Here, Evillene tries to coerce Dorothy into giving up her sister’s silver slippers by threatening to skin the lion, shown on stage. Dorothy is portrayed on stage as throwing a bucket of water onto Evillene, who appears to melt into her throne. The entire cast breaks into the hit song, “Everybody Rejoice”/”Brand New Day,” as Tin Man and Scarecrow are seen being restored to their original condition by the Winkies on stage. When the group returns to Emerald City, they are astonished by the realization that the Wiz is a phony. To apologize, the Wiz sets up a hot air balloon to take Dorothy back home, dreams that are shattered when the balloon flies away. Dorothy is then directed by Addaperle to Glinda’s castle for assistance in getting home. Glinda informs Dorothy that her power in getting home was always in the slippers if she believed hard enough. Dorothy, portrayed by Stephanie Mills, then performs the award-winning song, “Home,” as she bids her friends and Oz goodbye. As a finale, Dorothy clicks her heels thrice and is greeted by an overjoyed Aunt Em and Toto, signaling her final arrival home.
Many African-American musical genres are displayed within the production. Elements of jazz, gospel, R&B, soul, and funk are present throughout. Many songs included in the Broadway productions are black reprisals from the original Wizard of Oz. These reprisals incorporate black musical fusions into the classic white arrangements. The harmonies and melodies in the production incorporated many styles of instrumentation to provide the vibes of gospel, R&B, soul and funk. The instrumentation that can be heard while watching the Broadway show include, but are not limited to, cellos, keyboards, violins, bass guitars, trumpets, drums, horns, and woodwind.
In addition, many of the leading cast members transferred their musical training into the production arrangements. For example, Stephanie Mills’ soul, R&B and gospel training highlighted songs such as, “Home,” and “Ease on Down the Road.” Mabel King used her traditional gospel and nightclub soulful voice to captivate audiences in “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” Also, as apparent in the song, “Brand New Day,” written by R&B singer Luther Vandross.
I truly enjoyed watching this version of The Wiz. I grew up watching the film production with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and I enjoyed hearing the renditions done by these legendary songs. However, the musical theater production brought a special kind of significance to me. It is easier to sing in a movie than to sing onstage in front of a live audience. So, I am so inspired by the talent showcased in such a production, especially in this era. The direction was really good with this theater show because they were able to catch all aspects of what The Wiz entails. I also thoroughly enjoyed the musical talent that was showcased in this show. Stephanie Mills blew me away with her rendition of “Home.” Even though the quality of the technology was not to par at this time, I was still able to capture the power in the vocals and musical elements. Overall, I think this musical theater was a great foundation for all of the reprisals that came later on in history.