Berkeley Playhouse presents The WIz
Berkeley Playhouse closes its fifth season with the Tony Award-winning musical THE WIZ. Kimberly Dooley(Lucky Duck, Seussical, The Musical, Once On This Island) directs and choreographs this soulful re-imagining of L. Frank Baum's family classicThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz, featuring a cast of 46. THE WIZ plays through August 25 at the Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley.
In THE WIZ, Dorothy gets swept away by a tornado and ends up in the land of Oz. There, she learns that the only way she can get home again is to see the magical Wiz in the Emerald City. Along the way, she meets a Scarecrow made of garbage who wants a brain, a Tin Man who wants a heart, and a Lion who wants courage, and together they set off down the Yellow Brick Road to seek help from the all-powerful Wiz. This stage classic about the power of believing in yourself features such soul-stirring songs as "Home," "The Feeling We Once Had," "If You Believe," "No Bad News," and "Ease On Down the Road."
THE WIZ opened on Broadway in 1975 and closed in 1979, after four years and 1,672 performances. THE WIZ was Ken Harper's brainchild. He was the program affairs director at WPIX Radio in the early 1970s and hit upon the idea of an all-black version of The Wizard of Oz. A retelling of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the context of African American culture, THE WIZ, featuring music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and a book by William F. Brown, won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The musical went on to have revivals in New York, London, San Diego and the Netherlands; an off-Broadway Encores! concert version was staged in June 2009. A film adaptation produced by Motown and Universal Pictures was released in 1978, directed by Sidney Lumet, and starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Theresa Merritt, Thelma Carpenter, Lena Horne, and Richard Pryor. Along with musicals like Purlie (1971) and Raisin (1974), THE WIZ was a breakthrough for Broadway, a large-scale big-budget musical featuring an all-black cast. It laid the foundation for later African-American hits likeBubbling Brown Sugar, Dreamgirls, and Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies.
"THE WIZ is a wild and wonderful fantasy," said director and choreographer Kimberly Dooley. "The search for meaning and belonging, and the people by your side that make your journey meaningful, are the personal themes that resonate for me. There's a reason why 'there's no place like home' continues to permeate our stories, anecdotes and lessons. This show is a celebration of a classic story told through the rich, soulful music of the African American culture during the 1970s. The whole piece sings, moves, and dances; I see it as a big burst of heart and soul." Continued Dooley, "Being comfortable with our own unique identities is more important than ever. We live in a glorious, incredibly diverse community; the challenge can be figuring out how you fit into it, and being comfortable on your path there. I think this show is a celebration of that journey in every way."
Berkeley Playhouse is honored to partner with Habitat for Humanity during the run of THE WIZ. "This show is so much about 'home,' what better organization to represent that than Habitat for Humanity," said Berkeley Playhouse founding Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy. "For 37 years, Habitat has built more than 400,000 homes all over the world, often rebuilding entire communities after natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the tornados in Oklahoma; we are pleased to partner with such an incredible organization."
For tickets ($17-60) and more information, the public may visit berkeleyplayhouse.org or call 510-845-8542x351.