This summer, Virginia Rep presents an original production of The Wiz, the African-American musical reimagining of fantasy classic The Wizard Of Oz.
The latest and final production of Virginia Repertory Theatre’s 2018-2019 Signature Season is The Wiz. This fantastical modern retelling of The Wizard of Oz hits the November Theatre with aplomb. For those unfamiliar, The Wiz features an all-black cast of actors, singers, and dancers, containing heavy Motown motifs and featuring some local Richmond talent.
Associate Artistic Director of Virginia Rep, Kikau Alvaro, directed and choreographed the production with a hand-picked cast of professionals spanning multiple states. The production is structured around big musical numbers, but those expecting “Over The Rainbow” or “If I Only Had A Brain” will get something quite different from The Wiz.
“The Wiz has its own original songs,” Alvaro said, explaining the differences between the two productions. “Whereas the The Wizard of Oz is a movie musical, The Wiz is a musical production.”
When the production first hit Broadway in 1974, it won seven Tony awards the following year, including Best Musical. However, The Wiz is most commonly known for the 1978 film featuring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Richard Pryor. More recently, the musical was restaged for a 2015 NBC special, The Wiz Live!, which featured performances by Mary J. Blige, David Alan Grier, and Queen Latifah, among others.
In the hands of Virginia Rep, a professional theatre company dedicated to the development and production of new plays, The Wiz is an important artistic production in today’s age. In particular, Alvaro thinks the importance of having an all-African American cast is immeasurable in Richmond today.
“A cast member will bring their small child to rehearsal sometimes, and you can see it her face,” he said. “It’s about having positive images and role models.”
Dancers from local ballet companies have been contracted to perform in The Wiz. Ira White from Richmond Ballet and Rachel Seeholzer from Stavna Ballet will premiere alongside professionals flown in from out-of-state. With the November Theatre’s location just outside Jackson Ward, even the lineage of the theatre itself has important resonance for this production. It’s not to be missed.
The Wiz runs until August 4 at VA Rep’s November Theatre, located downtown at 114 W. Broad St. Tickets start at $36 and can be purchased at VA Rep’s website.