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Wayne Brady and Nichelle Lewis on Striving for Excellence in ‘The Wiz’

“That show was so Black,” my8-year-old whispered after we saw “The Wiz” on Broadway. He hadn’t made this observation last fall after seeing a performance of the show in Baltimore, during the national tour that preceded this revival. So I was curious: What had changed, and why was this iteration more culturally resonant for him than even the 1978 movie starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson or NBC’s 2015 “The Wiz Live!” special that I’d screened for him.

I suspected my son was drawn to this version’s colloquial expressions (“All I got to do is stay Black and die,” Evillene tells Dorothy), choreography (ranging from Atlanta street dancing to South African amapiano) and its casting of Wayne Brady as the Wiz, who greets the Scarecrow and the Tinman with a dap. (Brady will depart the production on June 12.)

Wayne Brady as the Wiz in the show’s Broadway revival.Credit…Richard Termine for The New York Times
Lewis, who is making her Broadway debut, with Kyle Ramar Freeman as a glammed up Lion and, in the background, Avery Wilson as the Scarecrow and Phillip Johnson Richardson as the Tinman.Credit…Richard Termine for The New York Times

“The Wiz,” an all-Black incarnation of “The Wizard of Oz,” premiered on Broadway in 1975 with Stephanie Mills as Dorothy. The revival’s creative team — including the director Schele Williams and the comedian Amber Ruffin, who updated the book — have said that they wanted this version to reflect the richness of Black American history and contemporary culture.

The show features a cast of newcomers, including Nichelle Lewis, whose TikTok performance of “Home” helped land her an audition for the role of Dorothy. Brady, who made his Broadway debut 20 years ago in “Chicago,” offers up a charismatic Wiz who will do (almost) anything to leave Oz and, in Wayne’s back story, return to his loved ones.

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