‘The Wiz,’ With Added Street Cred, Heads for TV and Broadway

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WATCH LIVE NOW ON NBC!

Clockwise from top left, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Uzo Aduba and Ne-Yo in “The Wiz,” on Thursday on NBC.

Perched atop a spiky chariot, Mary J. Blige rolled onto a set here and began making demands. “What’s that there?” she yelled, pointing to an invisible blotch. Underlings scurried to clean up. “Worrrk!” she bellowed.

Ms. Blige, the enduring R&B star, was rehearsing her part as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, in “The Wiz,” the enduring musical, which NBC will broadcast live on Thursday night at 8, Eastern time. As with its live-broadcast predecessors “The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan,” the cast is a mix of Broadway, television and film veterans, alongside music stars like Queen Latifah as the Wiz, and Ne-Yo as the Tin Man. There will be spectacle, too, in the form of Cirque du Soleil acrobats.

Unlike the audiences of the previous shows, Thursday’s viewers may get a chance to see this one again, off screen: “The Wiz” is already scheduled for a Broadway run next year, with much of the same design, costuming and choreography, including the Cirque performers. For the actors, then, it amounts to a live televised tryout.

Ms. Blige has been cramming. In a break from rehearsals last week, she talked about plumbing her “nasty, dark side” and showed off her crimson-tipped nails, which she has been growing long to feel witchy. She lobbied to play Evillene, she said, because the character’s number “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” is one of her favorites.

“My sister and I were singing this song recently, before I even got the part, just playing around with it,” she said. “Something about that ‘no bad news’ part relates to me now as a businesswoman: I don’t want to hear it. I want you to make it happen.”

For a while, though, it looked as if a full-fledged new “Wiz” might never happen.

An urban adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Wiz” won seven Tonys after it opened in 1975, a milestone for a show with an all-black cast, and introduced the song “Home,” sung by Stephanie Mills, as a radio hit. It became a cultural touchstone, especially for African-American audiences, who grew up on the over-the-top 1978 film version starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, a pricey critical flop that went on to have a devoted following. The show is also a school theater staple.

But a 1984 Broadway revival was short-lived. And a starry Encores! concert production in 2009 at City Center that featured members of the creative team now behind “Hamilton” generated tepid reviewsthat seemed only to remind critics of the show’s flaws.

Read the full article from the New York Times here.

Meet one of the Dramatist Guild 2015-2016 Fellow: EllaRose Chary

EllaRose DGWhat was your first experience with Theater?

My entry point into theater was cast recordings, when I was a kid that was all I listened to (let’s be honest, they’re still basically all I listen to…I listen to cast recordings at the gym). I had a cassette tape when I was very young of songs for kids from Broadway shows?—?“Consider Yourself,” “Getting to Know You,” “I’d Do Anything”?—?that I listened to every night before I went to bed. I memorized the songs. My parents noticed this and they also were musical fans, and so they took me to a variety of local and regional productions. My first really clear memory of seeing a piece of theater is seeing the SECRET GARDEN tour in Chicago (I’m from Gary, Indiana…). My mom and I had watched the number from the show on the Tonys and we had been listening to the tape, and I think that was the first major touring show I got to go to. I remember sitting in the front of the balcony, peering over the edge and watching Mary sing and thinking that could be me, I need to be a part of that.

When did you recognize you were a writer? Or when did you start writing?

I used to write stories when I was in elementary school and everyone would tell me I was a writer, and I would say, “yeah, yeah, I want to be a painter.” And then, in middle school I got picked to write a column for the local newspaper and I HATED it, and everyone said, “oh you’re such a good writer, you should be a writer,” and I said, “No way. I’m never going to be a writer, that’s the last thing I ever want to be after this.” But, there was a musical theater writing class in my high school that was a big deal, where you got to take a trip to New York (from Indiana), so I did that and I loved it, but I still wasn’t going to be a writer, I wanted to be an actor. When I got to college, Brown had this program where students could write musicals for the main stage and I did that with my friends and it started to creep into my mind that MAYBE if I could write musicals, that wouldn’t be so bad. But I was still in denial about being a writer. My playwriting teachers were amazing, and very encouraging, but I don’t think I really accepted that I was a writer and that that was going to be the thing that I was going to do until after I graduated from the Musical Theatre Writing grad program at NYU. I still don’t really love the label, I never want to be one thing, I want to do all kinds of things, so now I say I’m a writer AND…

Read the full interview here.

‘Playing the Assassin’ Shows Football’s Power

By, Jim Rutter, for The Inquirer

Playing the Assassin” performed by the Delaware Theatre Company stars Ezra Knight (right) and Garrett Lee Hendricks.

In 2013, I called David Robson’s Assassin a brutal gridiron drama, a verdict that holds up for his revised Playing the Assassin, now in a thrilling production at Delaware Theatre Company.

His current script builds on his original themes of guilt and recrimination, accidental suffering born of tragic circumstances (the hit didn’t violate rules, but Baker, like his real-life counterpart, Tatum, never apologized) and expands the depth of its humanity.

Some credit goes to Knight’s ferocious performance; like a tiger, he stalks the stage in a partial crouch, ready to unload on offenders, and instills his braggadocio with authenticity. But much goes to Robson, who has added great insight into the relationship of football to society and the evolution of the game as it has gone from a city-vs.-city sport to a corporate behemoth more bent on coddling millionaires and selling advertising and merchandise than on fueling intense rivalries.

The verbal sparring between the never-played Lewis and the veteran Baker accurately captures how football (and all team rivalry based sport) enables populations to sublimate violent urges into something less catastrophic and localized, no matter how violent that surrogate.

Read the full review here.

Ticketing information:
Playing the Assassin
Through Nov. 8 at Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water St., Wilmington.
Tickets: $30 and up. Information: 302-594-1100 or www.delawaretheatre.org

St. Germain’s ‘BEST OF ENEMIES’ in Burbank: Racial fireworks explode from the stage

bestofenemiesOnly one week left to catch Mark St. Germain‘s BEST OF ENEMIES at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA.  “The production is mandatory viewing for anyone who values the stage’s ability to provoke thought about serious social issues,” remarked reviewer David C. Nichols of the LA Times.

Based on a true story, Ann, an African-American civil rights activist, and C.P., the Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, are forced to work together by the federal government to achieve integration in their small North Carolina town fifteen years after Brown v. Board of Education.

Read the full review here, and for more information and ticketing, follow here.

Mark St. Germain Will Be One of the Most Produced Dramatists in the 2015-16 Season

American Theatre published a list of the top 20 most produced dramatists for the 2015-16 season, based on surveys of 386 theaters and 2,159 productions.  Mark St. Germain was ranked 9th.  The list is below:

1. Ayad Akhtar, 21 productions.

2. Tennessee Williams, 17.

3. Rick Elice, 17.

4. August Wilson, 16.

5. Sarah Ruhl, 15.

6. Arthur Miller, 15.

7. John Patrick Shanley, 13.

8. Lauren Gunderson, 13.

9. Mark St. Germain, 10.

10. Dominique Morisseau, 10.

11. Eugene O’Neill, 10.

12. Ken Ludwig, 9.

13. Christopher Durang, 9.

14. Tom Stoppard, 9.

15. Christopher Sergel, 9.

16. Aaron Posner, 9.

17. Jonathan Tolins, 9.

18. Laura Eason, 9.

19. Steve Yockey, 9.

20. Anne Washburn, 8.

Read the full article from the Washington Post here.