‘No place like home’: DC native brings ‘The Wiz’ to National Theatre to inspire DC students

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Wiz' at National Theatre (Part 1)

After traveling to Oz, Dorothy famously clicked her heels together to declare, “There’s no place like home.”

A Broadway producer is now saying the same thing as she brings the iconic stage musical “The Wiz” home to the National Theatre in the nation’s capital this Thursday through Sunday.

“We are so excited,” co-producer Marjuan Canady told WTOP. “I’m a native Washingtonian. I attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts many years ago. One of the performers in ‘The Wiz’ was my former classmate in the musical theater program, Allyson Kaye Daniel, so this show has really been a reunion for us. We just love seeing each other in rehearsal and all of the shows so far, so it’s been a lot of fun just to reconnect with her.”

Tuesday’s opening night falls on the exact 45th anniversary of “The Wiz” opening in movie theaters on Oct. 24, 1978. The stage version premiered in Baltimore on Oct. 21, 1974, before winning seven Tonys on Broadway.

“It’s such a historic time to bring this show back,” Canady said. “It’s the first revival ever from the original production. We have such an awesome team of creatives. The cast and creative team that has brought this to life, all led by our amazing Dorothy, Nichelle Lewis, our director, Schele Williams, choreographer JaQuel Knight, the list goes on and on. … And the script also has been enhanced by Amber Ruffin (‘A Black Lady Sketch Show’).”

Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel and the 1939 Hollywood classic, the story follows Dorothy (Lewis), a restless girl from Kansas who travels by cyclone to the magical land of Oz with her dog Toto. The Good Witch Glinda (Deborah Cox) sends her down the Yellow Brick Road where she meets The Scarecrow (Avery Wilson), Tinman (Phillip Johnson Richardson) and Lion (Kyle Freeman), who join her to visit The Wiz and melt the Wicked Witch.

“Most people know ‘The Wiz,’ the movie that starred Michael Jackson and Diana Ross and was such an iconic cultural piece that has impacted not only musical theater but more broadly pop culture,” Canady said. “[Our version] is a little bit more modern. There [are] some more contemporary cultural moments in there that everyone will love. It’s family-friendly, so kids can attend. I have a 3-year-old daughter. She will be coming to the D.C. show.”

The musical numbers fuse soul, gospel, rock and ’70s funk into iconic show tunes by composer Charlie Smalls.

“Everyone knows ‘Ease on Down the Road,’ that song is pretty much the staple,” Canady said. “‘Brand New Day’ is also an important song in the show. … Obviously, if you know the show, you know some of these iconic songs, but also there’s a twist to it — they’ve also incorporated a little bit of hip-hop. … ‘Believe in Yourself’ is probably my favorite song in the show. Those are the three biggest songs that you want to look out for in the show.”

Beyond just “The Wiz,” Canady runs the production company Sepia Works, the nonprofit Canady Foundation for the Arts and the D.C. children’s brand Callaloo Kids, employing 25 creatives in theater production, design, performance, animation, film and beyond. This week, her nonprofit is partnering with National Theatre’s “Teens Behind the Scenes” program to bring 200 local students to see “The Wiz” live in person on Saturday, Oct. 28.

“We use the power of story to connect professional artists to youth of color,” Canaday said. “A lot of these kids would not be able to go see this show or engage in the post workshops. Both Allyson and I will be visiting our former high school, Duke Ellington, and the dramaturge and teaching artist from the National Theatre will be going to [other] high schools, Dunbar, Cardozo, to engage with young people on the process of creating ‘The Wiz.'”

Find more information here.

Listen to our full conversation here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Wiz' at National Theatre (Part 2)
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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