SARASOTA, FL – Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe opens its 2016-2017 theatre season with The Wiz, a high-energy, fun-for-all-ages production loosely based on the original The Wizard of Oz story but transformed into a splashy, soulful rock happening as seen through the African-American lens. This magical, Tony Award-winning Broadway musical features music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and a script by William F. Brown. The production runs October 12 through November 20, 2016.
Just like The Wizard of Oz, the production features beloved characters Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Wizard, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Toto, too. However, in The Wiz, which debuted in 1974 in Baltimore before its 1975 Broadway run (which snagged seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical), the music is snappier and more soulful, the milieu more streetwise and contemporary than farm-fresh. With inspirational and upbeat numbers like “Ease on Down the Road,” “If You Believe,” “Everybody Rejoice” and “Home,” The Wiz makes the case that we all have more courage, hope, brains and love than we ever dreamed.
“One of my favorite shows as a child was The Wizard of Oz,” said WBTT founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs. “When this African-American version was produced on Broadway, I was thrilled that the show finally reflected Black culture. The rock music brought a new beat to the Yellow Brick Road but kept the heartwarming story of the original film. It has made African Americans treasure the story even more.”
Many cast members will play multiple roles. Some featured artists include Khadijah Rolle (Dorothy), Neyce Pierre (Aunt Em/Glinda), Michael Mendez (Uncle Henry/The Wiz), Chakara Rosa (Tornado), Ariel Blue (Addaperle), Leon S. Pitts II (Tin Man), Tarra Conner jones (Evillene), E. Mani Cadet (Lion), and popular WBTT dancer, Donald Frison. WBTT company manager Joey James makes his mainstage debut as the Scarecrow.
Kenney M. Green will direct and choreograph – this is his first time at the helm of a WBTT production. Green was referred to Jacobs by a longtime friend and colleague, Luther Wells, who is the dean of the school of theatre at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. In addition to numerous acting credits, directing credits include Ain’t Misbehavin’, Godspell, The Wiz, The Full Monty (Westchester Sandbox Theatre), Smokey Joe’s Cafe (Emelin Theatre), Almost Connected: The Music of Jimmy Webb, Legally Blonde, Oliver! and Hairspray! He can be seen behind the piano at two popular New York City piano bars: Brandy’s and Marie’s Crisis. Green is an active board member of The Ring Theatre and is a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association.
Also on the creative team: John Bronston is musical director and arranger; scenic design by Donna and Mark Buckalter; costume design by Cristy Owen; production manager is James E. Dodge II; stage manager is Juanita Munford; property master is Annette Breazeale; sound engineer is Patrick Russini; and wig design by Mydra McKinnon.
The Wiz orchestra includes Bronston on piano, Lenny Balestrieri on trumpet, Tony Benade on reeds, Joe Bruno on bass guitar, and Donald “Snoopy” Watts on drums.
“Our production of The Wiz will showcase some great, big personalities, spectacular musical numbers, and vibrant scenery and costumes,” said WBTT executive director Julie Leach. “With The Wizard of Oz being such a beloved and familiar story, we believe this is a wonderful show for all ages. We hope area families will come and share the experience of Oz with our WBTT family!”
Performances, which take place at the WBTT theater (1646 10th Way, Sarasota), are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays (except for October 15) and Sundays. Tickets are $39.50/adults, $22/students or active military with valid ID. Call the Box Office (941-366-1505) or go to westcoastblacktheatre.org.
About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe:
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Inc. is the only professional black theater company on Florida’s West Coast. The mission is to produce plays that promote and celebrate the African-American experience, attract diverse audiences, while using its productions as a vehicle for supporting African-American artists and building the self-esteem of African-American youth. For more information on WBTT, visit the website at westcoastblacktheatre.org or call (941) 366-1505.