On Monday, April 23, the doors of the Belk Theater in Robinson Hall opened up to the public for the production of “The Wiz.” This performance was presented by the Department of Theatre at UNC Charlotte. “The Wiz” is a modern twist on the classic 1900’s children’s novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” This version incorporates a contemporary urban feel with a combination of gospel, rap and soul music genres. This was the third and final sold out performance of “The Wiz” at UNC Charlotte. “The Wiz” was directed by James Vesce and included a cast of about 33 students. Some students played multiple roles throughout this play.
In the original book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” it begins with a young farm girl named Dorothy getting swept away from her home in Kansas by a terrible storm. This is still the case in “The Wiz.” One difference is that the modern Dorothy is from Brooklyn. In the original story, Dorothy’s house gets swept up and taken to the magical Land of Oz. Dorothy’s house lands on top of and kills the Wicked Witch of the East. The Good Witch of the North comes to greet Dorothy and gives her the magic slippers that used to belong to the Wicked Witch. All of this is still generally the same in “The Wiz,” except the house doesn’t fall on the Wicked Witch; it is Dorothy’s refrigerator that lands on the Witch.
The Good Witch tells Dorothy that the only way she can return home is if she travels to Emerald City to speak with the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy sets out on her journey and comes across a few friends on the way. Just like in the original story, “The Wiz” has the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion join Dorothy on her journey to Emerald City. Each character is looking for something missing in their life and they plan to find that missing element when they meet Oz. Oz said that the only way he will help them is if they kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Determined to get home, Dorothy along with her new friends, set out to take care of the Wicked Witch of the West.
After a battle between the Wicked Witch and her personal slaves against Dorothy and her friends, Dorothy heroically throws water at the Wicked Witch, not knowing that water is the only thing that could defeat the Witch. The Witch falls to the ground and her slaves rejoice with freedom.
The group traveled back to see Oz and tell him that the Wicked Witch has been defeated once and for all. There, they find that Oz is a fake and not a magical wizard at all. He is a man that just wanted power, prestige and money. So one day he went up in an air balloon and happened to land in the Munchkin Country. The people of the country were so amazed and thought he was a God sent from above so they immediately made him their leader.
Dorothy and her friends said that they would be his friend and help him become a better person. In return, Oz gave each character what they were searching for. The Scarecrow got some brains. The Tin Man got a heart. The Cowardly Lion got some courage. And all Dorothy had to do to get home was tap her heels three times; Dorothy returns home and has a new found appreciation for her family and home.
There were many noticeable differences in this modern play compared to the original book and movie. The songs had a strong gospel feel to them. There were a couple scenes where a screen was showing bits and pieces of President Trump on the news, celebrities on the red carpet and other controversial footage. There were also other scenes that included masks of past presidents including Barack Obama and George Bush. Glinda, a character in the play was dressed in a way that ironically resembled Hilary Clinton.
In the program book that was handed out before guests took their seats to watch the performance, there is a section in the program notes that gives some background information on this play. There were many theories that the original story was a parable on Populism. Critics suggested that the tornado in the story represented the Populist movement taking over the state. The Wicked Witch of the East symbolized evil East Coast financiers. The Munchkins were the “little people” enslaved by them. The fight over the silver slippers that Dorothy was wearing represented the demand over the gold standard and use of silver coin.
“Oz” has been studied over and over again and new perspectives and theories have surfaced. I think that the cast of “The Wiz” did a great job at capturing and imitating current topics in the world. The way the characters acted and presented themselves was crafted in a way that today’s generation could relate and even find comical aspects. This play has received seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score.