On Stage

Ease on Down to a Super Soul Wiz: This Wiz Comes to the San Diego Civic Theatre

By Berto Fernández

The Wizard of Oz will forever be considered an absolute classic film, particularly beloved in the LGBTQ+ community. Friends of Dorothy have followed our yellow brick road in ruby red slippers (Though the shoes are silver in this version) for decades.

In 1974, Charlie Smalls (music and lyrics) and William F. Brown (Book) conceived The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical “Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, to retell the classic L. Frank Baum novel as a musical from a contemporary Black culture perspective. The show opened on Broadway in 1975 to critical acclaim, winning them seven Tony awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Ted Ross), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Dee Dee Bridgewater), Best Choreography (George Faison), and in a Broadway first, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Costume Design (Geoffrey Holder). After a few revivals in London, Netherlands, and even San Diego, the show became a hit film led by superstar Diana Ross in the role of Dorothy, and Motown artist Michael Jackson as Scarecrow.

Almost 50 years later, the musical still captivates audiences all over the globe, and now a re-imagined National Tour embarks its journey across the US.

The historic San Diego Civic Theatre will be HOME to the magical production from January 9 through the 14th. The show features a phenomenal all-Black cast of artists, including recording artist and Broadway star, Deborah Cox as Glinda. The creative team is led by director Schele Williams (The Notebook, revival of Disney’s Aida), and award-winning JaQuel Knight (Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” Black is King), who choreographed the spectacular production. 

One of the main elements that keeps The Wiz at the top of the list for best musicals, is that it highlights diverse music styles like Soul, Disco, Soul, Gospel, and Funk, giving it a unique and captivating sound. Hits like “Ease on Down the Road”, “Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day”, and the iconic “Home”, will surely move audiences across the country. The story of The Wizard of Oz is pretty well-known, but The Wiz brings a few elements that are very specific to this version. Dorothy’s relationship and bond with Auntie Em is heightened in the show, making it an important focal point for the story’s message. One of the traditionally alluring elements of the show, is featuring the ensemble as the tornado, in the song with the same title. The witches of the corners have specific names like Addaperle (North), Evamean (East), Glinda (South), and of course the Wicked Witch of the West, Evillene. Another distinctive detail about the show are the green glasses upon arrival to the Emerald City, bringing a different twist to the beloved story.

New technology advances in scenic and lighting design bring spectacular visuals to this new and revolutionary production that will undoubtedly create a more immersive and multi-sensory experience to audience members. Academy Award ®-winning Hannah Beachler (Black Panther, Beyoncé’s Black is King and Lemonade) designs jaw-dropping sets for the show. Another element that is crucial for the storytelling of this theatrical experience are the intricate costumes, designed masterfully by Emmy Award®-winning and two-time Academy Award®-nominated Sharen Davis (Ray, Dreamgirls). The production photos (some included as part of this feature) really capture the vibe of a fabulous Ball, an important historical aspect of Black Queer culture that must continue to be proudly broadcast to the Theatre-going masses.

It is also important to point out that in a world where musical tracks or instrumentations would make the production costs lower or less complicated, Joseph Joubert (music supervision, orchestrations, & music arrangements), Allen René Louis (vocal arrangements, music arrangements), and Emmy Award®-winning music director and Grammy Award®-winning writer, Adam Blackstone (Dance Music Arranger), are creating remarkable music with a live orchestra to captivate audiences.

The Wiz is an astounding Musical for the entire family that should not be missed. This particular production is Broadway-bound for a limited engagement starting late March 2024, so this is your chance to experience this groundbreaking show right here in San Diego. Ease on down to the Civic before The Wiz flies away!

The Wiz is presented by Broadway San Diego with performances January 9th through January 14th at the Civic Center in Downtown San Diego. Tickets and info: https://www.broadwaysd.com/upcoming-events/the-wiz/