Monday, August 17, 2015
The 40th Anniversary of The Wiz at Marcus Garvey Park
The Wiz holds a special place in my heart, as it is the very first show that I ever saw on Broadway. I will never forget that day in 1975 when my Aunt Jessie (may she rest in paradise) called me and told me that she had 3 tickets to The Wiz that she wasn't going to use that day and I could have them if I came to New Jersey to pick them up. Well I called up my late bestie Tommy Brock and we FLEW to NJ to get those tickets. The show was incredible and I saw it 3 more times before it closed. It left an indelible mark on me...it is my all time favorite Broadway musical (with Dreamgirls coming in a close second). Tommy and I were absolutely GIDDY when the movie version was released three years later in 1978. Although we both frowned upon Diana Ross as Dorothy....the movie became a cult classic for us.
Fast forward 40 years later to 2015 and I am in my old neighborhood at Marcus Garvey Park on a Friday afternoon where SummerStage was celebrating the music of The Wiz. The show had already played the previous two days at Central Park on Wednesday (too many people in one place for me) and then it moved uptown to Marcus Garvey Park on Thursday (had to work late that particular night). I attended a class that morning and made my way back home to drop off my bags and then back out to head crosstown to the park. I stopped off at Jimbo's on Lenox Avenue (now with an "A" rating...praise the Lord!!) and bought a bacon cheeseburger with extra pickles, a big bottle of water and a bag of pretzels because I knew I would be sitting there for several hours.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day and I made it to the park around 3;30pm. The first thing I noticed was the line of portable toilets & sinks that were right outside of the theater area...Yay! I was pleased to see that I had my run of the place since there were maybe 15-20 people there at most. I found a spot in the 5th row in the center and made myself comfortable as I waited for a few friends to arrive.
As I sat there enjoying my burger (and yes! it was QUITE delicious!!) I began to watch the folks begin to trickle in. I saw a few dancers stretching and practicing some of the numbers and a lot of friends and some folks I hadn't seen in a very long time....Breea Williams (who is my homie from my early modeling days), Diane Simpson, Gordon Burnett (who joined me in the 5th row) along with my girl Taihisha Grant. I also saw Jackie Reid, Alyson Williams, Judith Jamison and a few others whose names escape me.
The show was scheduled to begin at 8:30pm and there was a wonderful jazz performer named Allan Harris who had me at hello when he opened his set (in a FLY Purple paisley jacket) with "I've Got A Lot of Livin' To Do" from Bye Bye Birdie. Now if you know me at all then you know that Jazz is like Nyquil to my soul (will put me to sleep immediately...lol) but I really enjoyed Mr. Harris' set immensely. Excellent performance!
After Allan Harris the DJ put on the music of James Brown and everybody just jumped up and started dancing! It was an amazing vibe in Harlem on this day. Peace and love all around.
And then finally......with an introduction from George Faison & Phylicia Rashad....The Wiz!!! Aside from some issues with the sound...I really enjoyed the show and the performances. The Tornado scene was wonderful!!! I thought the Tin Man was a standout for me as was the young lady who played Dorothy. Inaya Day sang her face off as well. I will be honest, I didn't particularly care for Evillene (I don't think she was in good voice this night) But the absolute highlight of the evening for me was Mr. Andre DeShields reprising his role as The Wiz (Note: No one has EVER done it better). At 69 Mr. Shields was in excellent voice and as always the consummate performer. The crowd ate him up and showed him much love.
As the cast had their curtain calls, Taihisha, her friend and I made our way over to Applebee's for a nightcap and then we each jumped in to taxi's and headed to opposite sides of town.
It was a truly memorable summer evening.
I am now eagerly anticipating the TV version of The Wiz that will be happening in the fall...Some of the casting has me a little nervous....but I will wait and see.
"Pure entertainment is not an egotistical lady singing boring songs onstage for two hours and people in tuxes clapping whether they like it or not. It's the real performers on the street who can hold people's attention and keep them from walking away." - Andy Kaufman