It’s time to ease on down, ease on down the road.
And thanks to George Faison, the Tony Award-winning choreographer behind the original Broadway musical of “The Wiz,” audiences will get a chance to experience some of the magic of that original production that snagged 7 Tony Awards 40 years ago.
Called “The Wiz: A Celebration in Dance and Music,” the special concerts celebrating the original production of “The Wiz” are scheduled for Aug. 12 at 8 in Central Park, and Aug. 13 and 14 at 7 p.m. in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. Admission is free; seating opens an hour before showtime.
“The Wiz” concerts are part of the annual Central SummerStage which produces free concerts each summer featuring some of the most prestigious companies and artists, all performing for free. Concerts are held at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park and at other parks around the city. For a list of SummerStage concerts this season go to this link: SummerStage schedule
But “The Wiz” is more than just another concert.
For longtime theater fans, the cast and creative team for the original production are still remembered fondly, from then unknown Stephanie Mills, who played Dorothy, to Andre DeShields who played the Wiz. The score by Charlie Smalls included a host of instant classics including “Ease on Down the Road,” “Everybody Rejoice” and “Home.”
“This was such a special show. We made history – a black show winning the Tony for Best Musical, introducing talents like Stephanie Mills,” said choreographer George Faison, whose work on the show won the Tony for choreography. “What made this show such a hit is that people needed relief. They needed a fantasy, an escape.”
And, Faison added, that sense of fantasy is one reason why there’s still so much excitement about “The Wiz.” Of course NBC has stoked interest with almost daily announcements about casting for its new, live production scheduled for December.
For Danni Gee, curator of dance for SummerStage, “The Wiz” concerts are an unusually big undertaking.
“Usually when we present a performer, they bring in a finished work or works. But for this, George is recreating and restaging the dance numbers,” Gee said. “We have some of the costumes from back in the day, we’ve put together a band.”
And, most intriguingly, the performers for the SummerStage concerts will include some who were in the original Broadway cast. Phylicia Rashad, who was a munchkin and swing in the original production, will serve as co-host for the SummerStage shows. Andre De Shields will reprise his performance as the Wiz. The original Addaperle (the Good Witch of the North), Ebony Jo-Ann, will also reprise her performance for the SummerStage concerts.
For Faison, who now runs the Faison Firehouse Theater in Harlem, putting together the concert has been a labor of love and a chance to remind people who are only familiar with “The Wiz” through the critically panned 1978 film version that starred Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.
Said Faison, “I have so many good memories about doing this show. The Broadway version was special and a lot of people have never seen it. It’s been a joy to see it coming back to life.”
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