Music

Behind the Big Broadway Return of ‘The Wiz’

From its 1975 debut on Broadway as “the super soul musical,” winning seven Tony Awards and spotlighting stars like Stephanie Mills, Hinton Battle, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Andre De Shields; to its Oscar-nominated screen adaptation starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson among others; to its sing-along songs like “Ease on Down the Road,” “Home” and “Believe,” The Wiz has become a modern-day musical theater classic — and in its retelling of The Wizard of Oz through the lens of Black culture and music, a landmark in Broadway history.

Related

Yet the show has only had one official Broadway revival, in 1984, which ran for a grand total of 20 performances — until now. A major new production of The Wiz is playing at the Marquis Theatre, and four of the stars of its cast and creative team — actors Wayne Brady and Deborah Cox; choreographer JaQuel Knight; and writer Amber Ruffin, who created additional material working with the show’s original book — stopped by Billboard News recently to talk about why the show is still a groundbreaker and a hugely entertaining crowd-pleaser.

For all four, The Wiz was a formative show, influencing their career paths in entertainment and showing what was possible for Black artists. “It was one of the drivers that made me go, ‘Oh, I think I can do this,’” says Brady.

“The film was just life-changing — it allowed me to see life as a choreographer and understand the essence and energy of movement,” adds Knight, known for his work with major pop artists including Beyoncé, Megan Thee Stallion, Zara Larsson, J Balvin and more.

For Ruffin, The Wiz was “a real introduction to Black weirdness not connected to Black pain…The Wiz is the thing that gives you permission to be your artsiest, weirdest self and just do what’s in your weird little heart.”

Brady, who’s starred in previous Broadway productions including Kinky Boots and Chicago, plays the showman titular character, while R&B veteran Cox displays vocal pyrotechnics as Glinda. Both discuss The Wiz‘s enduring significance as a universally welcoming show — and proof that Broadway can continue to diversify and evolve.

“This show is a testament to what you can do when you display Black people and Black culture not as a monolith,” says Cox. “We are all of it, and we are the origin of it, and I think this show is the beginning of what you’ll be seeing a lot more of on Broadway.” Adds Brady: “It’s a true display of Black excellence in every form. It’s so rich.”

To hear what else Brady, Cox, Knight and Ruffin had to say, watch the video above.

Powered by Billboard.

Related Articles

Back to top button