Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Wiz and Me

Continuing along with these Ozzy memories from the 1970s, one of the most influential events in my life has to be seeing the national roadshow of the original Broadway production of The Wiz on February 24, 1979.

I had just seen the film version starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson a month and a half earlier when it had opened in December 1978. I had liked the film version well enough and was playing the double-LP soundtrack album a lot at home. After seeing the film I started playing the original Broadway cast album a lot, too. And I was now eager to see the stage show which was coming to town to play at Popejoy Hall on the University of New Mexico campus. This is where all the big touring shows and concerts played.

I bought two tickets to the show. I was going to see the matinee by myself, and my mom, sister, and I were going to see the evening performance that night. Somehow I felt a deep connection to the show - even though I had yet to see it

This was the first Broadway tour I'd ever seen and the magic and intensity of the performance were incredible. The brilliance of Geoffrey Holder's making the Tornado a human dancer, the faithfulness to Baum's story, the fact that Dorothy was such a believable little girl . . . well it all uhm . . . utterly blew me away!

The program book said Dorothy was to be played by someone named Debbie Malone. But there was a photocopied insert in the program saying that the role of Dorothy was NOW being played by Lillias D. White, and let me tell you, she gave and sang a performance for the ages! For those that might not know, Lillias White has gone on to become a legend and Tony Award winning Broadway star. You can read a bit about her here.

I loved the second performance just as much. I had really never seen "magic" happen on stage before. I don't mean tricks, smoke, and flying monkeys; I mean the stage disappeared and I was sucked into the show. Like when reading an Oz book and the words fade away and you're just absorbing the adventure. It was so wonderful and magical that I knew I had to be a part of it and try to make that happen for other people.

So I decided I must work in the theatre, and eventually I did. And that is why seeing a touring production of The Wiz was so influential to me.


Bill Campbell said...

I saw the national tour in Philadelphia in September, 1978 - I imagine it would be the same tour, unless there were 2 companies traveling. In my case, Dorothy was played by Gayle Lorene Turner - who I have never heard of before or since! I loved the entire production, but the moment that still stands out for me was the very ending, in the final notes of music after Dorothy has finished singing Home. Toto (who didn't accompany her to Oz) ran onstage to her, showing she had arrived back in Kansas. Very simple, but also a very moving ending!

David Maxine said...

Exactly! That's the kind of thing that made it so brilliant.

No show today would be brave enough to have the finale be simply Dorothy singing in front a a blackout drop and have Toto run and jump in her arms! Simple, lovely, perfect!

BTW, I believe there were two bus-and-truck tours running at this point.

Terry S. Davis said...

Wonderful to hear that you would still remember that performance 31 years later. Of course, Lillias White made it to Broadway two years after you saw her, appearing in Barnum and is now performing in Fela. If you ever want to stop in at Popejoy to say hi, just let me know.

Terry Davis
Public Relations
Popejoy Hall

David Maxine said...

Hi Terry

Thanks for the comment. Glad to hear Popejoy is still doing well. I drove through Albuquerque briefly last year and when I passed the campus I didn't see Popejoy and worried it had been torn down. Are you in a new facility or did I just miss it?

Thanks for the comment,
David Maxine