A couple of weeks ago NBC aired the modern remake of the Broadway production of The Wiz to a national audience. Seeing that my schedule is tighter than Kim Kardashian’s corset, I tend to run behind on all things media. So I made a point to watch this legendary tale over this holiday weekend. The Wiz conjured up feelings of joy and glee that took me back to being 6 years old again, it was a perfect ushering of the holiday spirit into our home. I would love to at this moment get right into the meat and potatoes of how much I love this story, but I have to delve into the more urgent matter around this story first. I can remember dealing with this matter also at the tender age of 6, this issue of racism. You see The Wiz reflects the modernized heaping pile of it via Twitter. Recent tweets at the very least show the ignorance around issues of race in America.
Some melanin deficient folk missed a few days of American history class. Swarms of tweets hit social media minutes into the premiere of the Wiz earlier in December, calling racism on it’s all black cast. (Enter laughter.) These ignoramuses claimed that black folk would take to the streets if The Wiz was cast all white. (Enter roaring laughter.) Somewhere between the sun rising in the east and where babies come from lies the knowledge of where the story of The Wiz derives.
In 1939 The Wizard of Oz was televised, and it has been a classic staple for generations, (of all colors), in American homes ever since. Fast forward to 1975, a Broadway production premiered titled The Wiz. It was a funky, disco influenced urban rendition of the beloved original classic Wizard of Oz film. Later in 1978 the rest of the country outside of New York city met the story of The Wiz when the play was made into a movie. The Wiz Eased on Down the Road of black folk’s hearts living in the 70’s and 80’s, at a time when people of color on television was as common as a full moon eclipse. The Wiz the movie was to my childhood as was ice cream and playgrounds.
So in review The Wiz was made a long time ago which was an “urban” rendition of the story The Wizard of Oz, made an even longer time ago. Unbeknownst to many millennials who are clearly allergic to Google this is the history of how all this came to be. And, (I hope they’re sitting down for this), although there was not a single munchkin or witch with even a slight tan anywhere to be found in the original Wizard of Oz, no black folk took to the streets in protest of its all white cast that hit our tv screens. White people taking to Twitter to complain about The Wiz’s all black cast is like that time when…. ahh, I’ve got nothing, it’s like nothing. It’s like 1+1 equals zebra. It’s nonsensical. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to take to Twitter and remove all doubt.
Let it also be noted that black folk did not take the streets when we watched all white episodes of Friends, Full House, Cheers, Mash, Family Ties, All in the Family, Happy Days, and countless shows that aired since the dawn of television. All white casts on shows were the overwhelming norm until like 10 years ago. Instead of taking to the streets over silly things, we tend to keep the marches to special occasions such as seeking the right to vote, or the birth right to attend school, or to stand against our sons being gunned down in the streets. On the occasion that we find the imbalance of those of color on silver screens disturbing, or that our gifts aren’t appreciated by the masses, we and other people of color tend to start organizations and movements for such things.
Ask the AAPCHO, (the National Association of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), which was formed because most community organizations left them out and are usually all white, and continue to be. Then swing by and ask the ALMA’s, (The American Latino Media Arts Awards), which were formed because most performing art academies left them out and are usually all white, and continue to be. Then run by and ask the HBCU’s, (the Historically Black Colleges and Universities), which were founded because colleges left us out and were usually all white, and continue to be. These dumb tweets are a reminder of how dumb America is, and to put a cherry on this sundae of ignorance lies the thinking that racism no longer exists. #HeadPalm
So now that all of that is addressed I can get down to the purpose of this blog entry. How much I really loved this new remake of the Broadway rendition of The Wiz!! Seeing this play resurrected some dormant comfy cozy feelings I have had all my life around this story. I have seen The Wiz the movie more times than I can count. Now after my third watching of the live Broadway show, I’ve noticed how well it fits with the spirit of Christmas. It’s all about love, finding home, family and all that gushy stuff Christmas reminds us of.
But this story is extra special to me. It reminds me of years past when my childhood was bright and hopeful. It reminds me of my mom Mc’ing my dance recitals, one of which I played the Wicked Witch of the East in our rendition of The Wiz. It reminded me that lyrics to songs are only a few beats away in the recesses of our minds. It reminded me of all the love and loss, the joy and the pain of those days growing up, very much like the ups and downs that Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion experienced.
So while I tuned in to be able to address the ridiculous rhetoric against The Wiz’s all black cast, I am more pressed on the significance that this story holds for me personally. How I’m always struck with cloudy eyes when I hear Dorothy singing to Lion “you’re standing tall and strong and you’re the bravest of them all”. I can’t help but to turn in circles with arms reached to the Heavens as Brand New Day plays. I’ll focus on the sniggles all through the play as the humor was modernized with the Oh Snaps, the My Bads and the Throwing Shade. I’ll center on Ne-Yo’s, (as the Tinman), moves and melodies that made me crush on him just a little harder. I’ll focus on Elijah Kelley’s eerily close to Michael Jackson’s vocals in the roll they shared as the Scarecrow. And on one of my faves, David Alan Greer’s phenomenal showing of the Cowardly Lion. And then there was the moment when I knew this production was legit when Stephanie Mills, the original Dorothy, walked on the stage, with her voice as crisp as 40 years ago. How I loved Queen Latifah’s Calypso flow on Meet the Wizard that had me on my feet, and how Amber Riley’s Good Witch introed us into Oz like no other. The surprisingly rich and beautiful voice of Uzo Aduba stepped way beyond Orange is the New Black’s Crazy Eyes. And lastly and not leastly the newly introduced Shanice Williams as Dorothy whose sweet voice singing Home put her in a special place in my heart. And that’s exactly where The Wiz is, in our hearts, and will always be.
For anyone who grew up on The Wiz, it is special. It’s special because of it’s cultural significance, but the story in and of itself stands alone. Albeit I still love the original Wizard of Oz where Glenda the Good Witch appears and gives the brains, heart, courage and home that the characters longed for, comparably in The Wiz Glenda appears to tell the characters that what they were seeking was within them all throughout their journey. As Dorothy was in her search for home, we also seek refuge, the place to lay our heads, the place where we can be ourselves, and place where we’re most loved. Lena Horne as Glenda in the movie version of The Wiz reminds us, “Home is knowing your mind, knowing your heart, knowing your courage, home is inside you… And the same is true for you also.”