‘The Giz’ brings a go-go version of ‘The Wiz’ to DC’s Lincoln Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Giz' at Lincoln Theatre (Part 1)

Once you’ve paid your debt to society, you deserve a genuine chance to rehabilitate yourself.

Playwright Lovail Long found his creative spark while incarcerated in solitary confinement.

“I wrote this stage-play while I was incarcerated,” Long told WTOP. “I wanted to come back to my community because I had done so much destruction. I wanted to come back and give something positive back to the community. I was in solitary confinement separated from the population, so I got a message from God who said I’m was going to be a playwright. … I woke up the next morning and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was on. That’s when it hit me.”

Just like that, he created the stage production of “The Giz,” à go-go version of “The Wiz” and “The Wizard of Oz” that’s opening this week at Lincoln Theatre on U Street in Northwest D.C. from April 28 through April 30.

“[Imagine] if Bob Marley would have done ‘The Wiz’ in Jamaica,” Long said. “We have six original songs, ‘Chocolate City Records,’ ‘King of the Go-Go Beat,’ but we also have some classic songs. We do the ‘Home’ song in go-go, we mix R&B, we take ’em to church, we’ve got a little James Brown. … No ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ but we do have à go-go version of ‘Brand New Day’ [and] ‘Ease on Down the Road,’ but we make that left on MLK [Avenue].”

In this version, Dorothy isn’t from Kansas but rather North Carolina where a tornado picks up her house and drops it in Landover, Maryland. At the bus stop, she meets a chaperone named WB, played by Joe Jackson, who shows her around town because “where I’m from in this city, Toto wouldn’t last coming through Washington, D.C.”

“I’m guiding Dorothy through the city,” Jackson said. “You need somebody who knows the city to guide people who aren’t from the city throughout the city, so that’s what I do. I guide her and we go through different parts of the city and meet the different characters. … You’re gonna see [Universal] Madness attire, you’re gonna see urban wear, you’re gonna hear lingo that we used back in the ’80s and ’90s, it’s really going to take people back on a ride.”

Together, they travel their own rendition of the Yellow Brick Road, first stopping in Northwest D.C. to meet the Scarecrow, who’s the cousin of former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, then to Northeast D.C. to meet a heartless woman named Tin Ma, then to The Wharf in Southwest D.C. to meet a local version of the Cowardly Lion. Along the way, they encounter the Good Witch of Georgetown and the Wicked Witch of Waldorf.

It all builds to Southeast D.C. in Chocolate City (i.e. Emerald City) to meet The Giz, played by Miles Ross, who admits that he’s never seen Frank Morgan in the 1939 movie or Richard Pryor in the 1978 film. As such, he literally “paid no attention to the man behind the curtain,” allowing him to provide a completely fresh take.

“I’ve never seen ‘The Wiz,’ as strange as that may sound, and people talk about me like a dog, ‘How the hell you ain’t ever seen ‘The Wiz?'” Ross said. “Everything I’m doing with this play is straight off the cuff. Lovail had the confidence in me to play this part. … They just told me that The Giz is bigger than life and I’m bigger than life.”

The Giz kicks off a yearlong residency at Lincoln Theatre for Long’s new production company DC Black Broadway, followed by the first all-Black version of “Grease” called “Grease with a Side of Mumbo Sauce” in September and then either “Chocolate City Records” or “The Go-Go Nutcracker” in December — he still hasn’t decided.

“I went to Lincoln Theatre and there were no Black performances no more — this was in like 2018,” Ross said. “I was really disappointed because U Street was Black Broadway. So, I said, ‘Hey, I want to do a play here,’ and they looked at me like I was crazy. … They didn’t think Black people would return, but once I had my first play there called ‘What Your Man Won’t Do,’ we sold 1,800 seats and God was like, ‘Change your name to Black Broadway.”

It’s an inspiring comeback story for Long, who served time in prison for what he called “conspiracy trafficking cocaine” but is now making a new name for himself as a creative artist in the nation’s capital.

“I tell people that God locked me up to free me,” Long said. “It’s for me to show people that we definitely deserve a second chance. I really don’t like the term ‘second chance’ because everybody knows I’m a kid from Southeast D.C. so I never really had a first chance. … I was born into poverty, I was born into this, I was poor and we had to make a living, so now this is my first chance, I get to come home, I’ve got God on my side, I’ve got the arts.”

Find ticket information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Giz' at Lincoln Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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