Students and Wizards and Motown, OH MY!
After successful past theatre productions of Fame in 2011 and Grease in 2010, the team at Rowville Secondary College are once again getting ready to strut their stuff on stage, bringing to life the marvellous Motown magic of ‘The Wiz’.
A semi-modern retelling of L. Frank Baum’s ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, ‘The Wiz’ is a showcase of colourful music and clever adaptations of characters that run within a context of African-American culture. The 1975 Broadway production won seven Tony Awards and five Drama Desk Awards, and is likely one of the most widely known examples of mainstream theatre’s acceptance of different cultures and styles, paving the way for other all-black musicals, such as ‘Dreamgirls’.
What makes ‘The Wiz’ stand apart from other musicals of it’s day is the message contained ‘between the lines’. Yes, in the late 70’s it was a message about urban African Americans finding both self-worth and pride, but that same message still rings true in today’s society, especially when our modern day world is rife with depression and anxiety. A show that allows it’s audience to bring together multicultural themes, contemporary slang and a very simple but practical message and present them with humour, and a whole lot of heart, is what makes ‘The Wiz’ truly timeless.
The film adaptation in 1978 saw Diana Ross in the lead role of Dorothy, with the comic genius Richard Pryor in the titular role of the Wizard, and of course, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.
Rowville Secondary College takes certain measures when presenting their school productions, and it was through careful consideration that they came to the decision to present ‘The Wiz.’ It’s clear that the production team have selected a show that primarily, the Students will enjoy, and that the audience will enjoy seeing. There’s room for a large cast, which helps when casting within a school, and heaps of opportunities for students both singers and non-singers alike. It’s also a show that will work for the space available at the College, as well as the past seasons that the school has presented.
The whole process began in February with auditions held the first week back from Summer Holidays, and the students’ response to the auditions was almost overwhelming, blowing the production team away with the wonderful talent that the youth of Melbourne have to offer. Most of the students expressed talent beyond their years. While the College allowed for a cast of seventy for the production, the panel sat through more than one hundred and fifty individual auditions for the casting process! The rehearsal process for the production is almost complete, and was highlighted with a special weekend intensive camp, where the students were able to polish up on the choreography, music, and dialogue while bring the spectacle of The Land of Oz to life.
It’s clear that the learning process through a school production heightens the students’ sense of achievement, and it is a wonderful experience to be involved in such a production. Those of us who are seasoned veterans should hopefully all look back on our days performing in School productions with fondness. That initial challenge as you first start to experience theatre and stepping out onto the stage for the first time is a wonderful (and at times frightful) experience, and sometimes we lose that magic that we first felt in those performances. And with such a large cast, there’s no doubt that the ensemble has grown to become quite the family unit!
There is no doubt that the core story of Dorothy and her adventures in Oz will always have a special place in the heart of everyone, but ‘The Wiz’, and its themes, bring so much more to the classic tale, in a retelling that delights in its funky Motown vibe. The songs are memorable, and the audience will most likely leave the theatre humming ‘Ease on Down the Road’, if not singing it full voice. So, pick up your oil cans, paint your ruby slippers silver, and catch a ride via tornado to see Rowville’s Wonderful World of ‘The Wiz’.
Rowville Secondary College’s production of "The Wiz" opens on the 1st of August, and shows are on 2nd, 3rd and 4th of August, at the Rowville Secondary Performing Arts Centre. Tickets are selling fast and can be purchased online at www.trybooking.com/BPKR