From left: Brian Hancock, Felander Stevenson, Kwabena Flewellyn, Ana Monet and Donnie Gethers in the Henegar’s THE WIZ. Photo detail by Dana Niemeier.
By PAM HARBAUGH
While there are plenty of opportunities to get scared outta your bloomers this season, Halloween enthusiasts of a more gentle persuasion have something fun for them as well: The Henegar production of the fun-filled musical “The Wiz.”
Yes, this is a revisioning of L. Frank Baum’s 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” and shares the iconic number “East On Down the Road” with the 1978 Michael Jackson movie, the musical stage version is quite different. Unlike its celluloid cousin, which critics trashed, the stage version was highly acclaimed and won seven Tony Awards.
With music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and book by William F. Brown, “The Wiz” has some great numbers and the cast delivers, said director Amanda Manis.
“We are taking Dorothy and this whole show on an adventure through African-American culture and history,” she said. “The Scarecrow is a sharecropper character. The Tin Man is a northern migration construction worker and the Lion has evolved into a highly educated, suave man. The Witches are church ladies, African queens, and wardens of a prison industrial complex. The hair is natural and the culture is everywhere.”
Brevard audiences will also get a chance to see the return of one of their most cherished performers, Felander Stevenson. He’s been away from our stages for just much too long!
A professional actor, he wowed audiences in his roles as Donkey in the 2015 Cocoa Village Playhouse production of “Shrek the Musical” and then as Harpo in “The Color Purple” at the Henegar. Then, he hit the road and performed around the world.
“I’m usually only in the area for very limited amounts of time but fortunately this show fell right into place during a break,” he said. “This is my first time being in ‘The Wiz.’ I’m humbled to be able to portray Scarecrow. It’s one of my many dream roles.”
Stevenson said he grew up loving the movie and could sing every song, recite every line and dance every step and that it drove his mother to distraction.
“I couldn’t help myself. ‘The Wiz’ is a staple in the African-American community,” he said.
In addition to watching the movie, Brian Hancock, who plays the role of the Lion, watched clips of the original Broadway production starring Stephanie Mills. That, he said, is where his love of Broadway musicals was born. (Although critically acclaimed for her performance, poor Stephanie lost her chance being cast in the movie because Diana Ross did an end run around her, director John Badham and Motown producer Berry Gordy to get cast in the role. Sidney Lumet eventually directed.)
Taking on the role of Dorothy on alternate performances are Alex Robinson and Ana Monet.
“With all of the witches and magic everywhere, it’s definitely a Halloween must watch and families will enjoy the message it sends,” Monet said. “Everything is so dynamic and wow filled.”
And slipping into those costumes, which are designed by Shannon Reppert and Caitlin Reppert, is just the best for this time of year, Stevenson said.
“How often can you get away with wearing green wigs, green glasses and sequined blazers without it being in fashion week?” he said.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “The Wiz” opens Oct. 12 and runs through Oct. 28 at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are $19 to $29. Parking is difficult right now because of construction, so valet parking is available for $10. Call 321-723-8698 or visit Henegar.org.
This is an edited version of a story running now in Melbourne Beachsider.