theater

The Wiz Realness Recap!

Last night, the melanin pop-age was present and accounted for on NBC’s live airing of The Wiz! Shanice Williams made her debut as Dorothy and the cast was star-studded, including Uzo Aduba, Queen Latifah, Ne-yo, Elijah Kelley, Amber Riley, David Allen Grier, Mary J Blige, (Mutha) Stephanie Mills, and Common. Seeing the representation of Black Theater, Black talent, and Black culture live on NBC… gave me my life! It was a magical 3 hours.

As a note, this recap is written in dialect, unlike many of my other pieces… because only AAVE will do it justice. #SayinithowIfeelit. Also, this recap will show the pieces that stood out to me the most (so don’t get in your feelings if I don’t mention your favorite part).

First, I will admit that I was skeptical at the beginning. You have to understand that many-a-weekend during my childhood was spent watching the 1978 version of The Wiz with Diana Ross, Nipsy Russel, and Michael Jackson. (Don’t judge me… I needed my Ease Down the Road Realness Levels to be stable).

However, from the moment that Mutha Stephanie Mills (who originally played the role of Dorothy in the 1975 Broadway debut) opened her mouth to sing “The Feeling We Once Had(written by Charlie Smalls), I knew it was going to be a great production. And when that WIND got to blowin’?!?! TWIRL! Erin Logan, writer for Blavity.com, said that “the tornado sequence and everyone’s reaction to it” was “#2 on the list of a definitive ranking of the 8 Blackest moments of #TheWizLive”. Erin is right. I literally started shouting when they came out.


Giphy.com

One of my FAVORITE moments from the show was Amber Riley’s performance of He’s the Wizard. It’s one of my favorite songs in the show (those movements… yes) and Amber Riley came to sing the damn song with that fierce blue lippie that I actually need in my life (does anybody know where I can find a dupe?). Sheridan Watson wrote a Buzzfeed article about the greatness of Amber Riley’s facial expressions alone… and you need to read it after this because it’s hysterical. #SINGAMBER 

NBC – #MOOD when you know you about to sing the house down

Now, before people think I’m throwin’ shade, let me speak on Shanice Williams, who played the role of Dorothy. She can sing. She has a key soprano that fit in well with the grandeur of this production. But her tone isn’t one of my favorites. With that said, I’ll repeat what I told my Facebook cousins yesterday:  “I ain’t mad (at her) tho cuz she’s up there and I’m spectating so… #gogurl”.

I knew that the temptation was going to be to compare Elijah Kelley’s rendition of “You Can’t Win” to the incomparable Michael Jackson. But for me, Elijah Kelley has been bae since his role in the film version of Hairspray so #youcanttellmenuffin. So, shoutout to his interpretation of the song. Shoutout to the fact that he busted out a back handspring and then proceeded to sing the dang song. Shoutout to the scarecrows who were in. character. the entire time – come through head tilt and wing span realness! Who’s mad? Not me.

Do you have an older relative, an uncle perhaps, that always regales you with tales of how they were ‘back in the day’. You may have believed them. You may not have. But then one fine day, at the family gathering, they just bust out with whatever their talent was… and they kill it.

That’s that David. Allen. Grier. Realness.

He came to sing. He came to dance and body roll. He came to give us the lipshakesnarl. He came to win. And he won. (Also, because I’m churchy, I was tempted to do a medley from “Be a Lion” into Donald Lawrence’s Encourage Yourself. Click the links later, hear it, and cackle. And if you do it on Sunday, I’m expecting a shout out).

Speaking of church, Common did a good job as the quintessential church usher… I mean, Emerald City bouncer.

Credit: Karlton Humes aka @notkarltonbanks on Vine and Instagram

Quick recognition to choreographer Fatima Robinson and the Poppies whine-up-ya-waist-and-werk sequence.

OH but when they got into the Emerald City (cue Hammond B3)… VOGUE REALNESS was being served! Not only did the ensemble cast come to dance, strut, and vogue, the costume designer Paul Tazewell did his GOOD work. If anyone wants to get me the geometric jumpsuit with the triangle hat for Christmas, I will wear it gratefully.

NBC

Next up… the Queen! I SO appreciated Peter Tazewell’s decision to nuance The Wiz’s costume. On NBC News, he describes it as “androgynous, angular, a showman (showperson?) and definitely GREEN”. Come through inclusion. Queen Latifah did an awesome job and she’s no newcomer to the musical scene. I was proud of her interpretation of the Wiz and proud of that mean side-step she did on her song “So You Wanted to See the Wizard”. Also, pit orchestra for the win.

I haven’t forgotten about Ne-Yo as Tin Man but you’re probably wondering why I waited until now to bring him up. I was surprised by Ne-yo’s performance. I didn’t love the character choice he made with the accent but that really doesn’t matter because when he opened his mouth to sing “What Would I Do If I Could Feel”… #SINGTHESONG #CONVEYTHETEXT. He performed that song and I allllmost shed a tear.

In the spirit of transparency, I was low-key worried about Mary J. Blige (and I do love her).

I was so scared the Mary-bopness would take away from the character, but I have to give it to her. She made BOLD choices with Evilene’s character. She sang. the. dang. song. (Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News). Her braids were on point. And Mary won. She just won. Because when she said, “This lil’ gurl think I’m still playin with her…” I realized she was talkin’ to me for lowkey doubting her. Come through, Mary! LOL!

Everybody Rejoice / Brand New Day, originally written by Luther Vandross, is another one of my absolute favorite songs in the musical, and I appreciated the gospel choir backup, and Elijah Kelley’s distinct harmonies (they thought they were slick and were going to slide that in like we weren’t gone know). But from that entire scene, I have to take special notice of the ensemble member with the bald head and the beard. Does anybody know his name? I didn’t get a progrum… He took those 8 seconds and said “I have to come to hold this note and who’s mad…”?!!! Sing, sir. Somebody send me his name so I can thank him for that.

Uzo Aduba. OH MY STARS. That tone. The smoothness. The richness.

Finally, I need to know who is responsible for this:

Black Twitter has NO. CHILL. I laughed hysterically because of the amount of #FreeToto and ‘Where’s Toto’ posts I saw!

WHOOO is responsible?!?!?! LOL!

So, when he popped out the side at the end, my heart was filled with joy unspeakable!

All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful production and I’m left with so much pride and joy! Many of you know that I went to a Creative & Performing Arts High School and majored in Theater, so this production meant a lot to me on so many levels. I appreciated every note and nae nae, and you better believe I’ll be re-watching and singing along at my earliest convenience. #BlackExcellence!

Featured Image Credit: Createherstock.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Raisin, A Piano, & A Bible: Reflections on the King Lawsuit

“Gin my cotton Sell my seed Buy my baby Everything she need” -Skip James, musician
Opening line of August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson”

“MAMA: Oh—So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. I guess the world really do change . . .
WALTER: No—it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.”
Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansbury, Act I, Scene II

I am trained in Theater performance and the concept of art imitating life has always been intriguing to me. Prior to studying identity theory in my M. Ed College Student Affairs program, I learned about it intuitively from my time spent in the pages of playwrights. Two plays that consistently strike chords in my being are Lorraine Hansbury’s Raisin in the Sun & August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson for their concepts of legacy, family, and the history of people of color in America. Both plays feature a character, specifically, a man of color, with an elusive dream. In the Piano Lesson, Boy Willie & Lymon dream of selling a family heirloom (a handcrafted piano explaining the history of the family) in order to secure a plot of land. They believe that this land will yield riches for them, and a symbolic place and space in the earth. Berniece, the matriarch of the family, refuses to sell the piano and therein lies the complication of the plot. Likewise, in Hansbury’s Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family awaits Mr. Younger’s life insurance check. This check is in the amount of $10,000. Mama is the primary beneficiary, yet everyone in the family has important opinions on the allocation of the funds (further schooling, a family home, etc.). Her son, Walter Lee, dreams of opening a liquor store with his friends Bobo & Willy. And just like Boy Willie in the Piano Lesson, Walter Lee believes that this will yield additional riches for the family for generations to come. In both plays, the matriarchs are primarily concerned with upholding and honoring the legacy of the family. In both plays, the principal male characters believe that some type of concrete, physical space (for one, land for farming… for the other, a liquor store) will allow them to yield profits for the unforeseeable future.

Though these plays were written decades ago, a similar plot is unfolding right now… with the children of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Two of his children, Martin & Dexter, are suing their sister, Bernice (who ironically holds the same name as Berneice from August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson) because she refuses to sell two family heirlooms: Dr. Martin Luther King’s Bible and his Nobel Peace Prize medal. Though the details are unclear, Martin & Dexter King are looking to sell these items “to a private buyer”, as cited in the LA Times. The LA Times also references Bernice’s response: “There is no justification for selling either of these sacred items. They are priceless and should never be exchanged for money in the marketplace.” And just like the old plays, the plot complicates…

What is it about the selling of life investments, of family heirlooms, to acquire material wealth? What kinds of strain does this create in families of color; so many precious things ripped from their histories, families, and legacies?

For may years, communities of color have been denied capital in a variety of systemic ways: denial of bank loans, socioeconomic poverty, red-lining, denial of employment opportunities, and the list could go on for the length of this piece. For many years, economic growth and equality has been a battlefield where we have searched to gain more ground. What happens when a window of opportunity opens… but in order to access it, you are asked to sell your birthrights, your family heirlooms, your ancestral history?

Can we compare Dexter and Martin to Boy Willie (The Piano Lesson) and Walter Lee (Raisin in the Sun)? In Theater, we (the audience) have the privilege of being invited into the internal landscape of the characters. We know what Boy Willie wants but more importantly, we know why he wants it. We know the psychology of his desire to sell the piano… a family heirloom that illustrates the story of his ancestors. In his mind, selling that heirloom affords his family the chance to reclaim / buy back the land that his family was enslaved upon. Perhaps, it affords the chance to claim a legacy of freedom that he wishes were weaved ages ago. Likewise, we know the psychology of Walter Lee’s desires. He believes the money offers the true freedom to his family (and implicitly, to families of color in America). Freedom, to him, is not as clear cut as ownership of self and of family. To Walter Lee, freedom can be funded…accessed through money. So, we grapple with this motif of freedom: does freedom come by grasping family legacy, or does it come through the selling of goods? A Raisin in the Sun, The Piano Lesson, and the King lawsuit all beg the audience to grapple with the question: as people of color in America, what things can you justifiably give up… in pursuit of a dream? In pursuit of greater freedom? In pursuit of wealth?

In this life-drama between the King family, we are not as privileged as we were as audience-members in a theatrical drama. We don’t know the psychology of Martin & Dexter’s desires to sell Dr. King’s Bible and Nobel Peace prize medal. And all that we know about Bernice is that these pieces are “sacred” and so, she refuses to sell them. Although we don’t know these things, the questions still remain: what do you give up? I mean what do you really give up… mentally, relationally, spiritually… when you sell symbols of your legacy in pursuit of a dream?

Image courtesy of Nuttapong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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A Raisin, A Piano, & A Bible: Reflections on the King Lawsuit by Jade Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.