After the amazing 2017 production of Disney’s Aladdin Jr, Galway’s annual summer musical this year produced by Twin Productions, and running at the Town Hall from August 22 to 26, is The Wiz – based on the ever-popular The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum. First performed in 1974, The Wiz features a book by William F Brown, music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and all the lovable and wicked characters in a funky musical rendering of the classic tale. The show won seven Tony Awards when it was staged on Broadway, where it ran for four years, and it has since gone on to become a cult classic.
It’s a fantasy for today - mysterious, opulent, and fanciful with Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz set to music in a dazzling, lively mixture of rock, gospel, and soul.
It begins on a tumbledown farm in Kansas from whence a sudden tornado whips Dorothy and her dog Toto, setting them down in a big-city-like Oz. After celebrating with the Munchkins the demise of the Wicked Witch of the East, Dorothy departs for the Emerald City along the Yellow Brick Road. She encounters a hip Scarecrow who wants to join her because he has a feeling he isn’t going anywhere; an uptight Tin Man who needs Dorothy’s help to hang loose again, and a mama’s-boy Lion who has lost faith in the psychiatric help he’s been getting from an owl. Together they will seek help from the Great Man in the flashy city and along the way, meet The Mice Squad, Evilene, the Wicked Witch, the Good Witches, the Winged Monkeys and the Crows.
The Wiz was of course first presented as an Afro-American retelling of the familiar Wizard of Oz story and many people will recall the 1978 movie version starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. When Séan Power, director of Twin Productions’ The Wiz hooked up with me to chat about the show I began by asking how he is approaching this aspect of it.
“It was written as a black version of the story initially but I have seen a number of productions both abroad and in Ireland done with all white casts and done very well,” he reveals. “The story is the same as The Wizard of Oz but the songs and music are much funkier and there is probably even better music in this show than the original Wizard of Oz. It lends itself well to any kind of cast. It follows the original plot closely and has all the familiar characters – Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Witches, Dorothy. Only the music is completely different and it is very tuneful.”
I ask Séan what are the musical highlights of the show. “‘Ease on Down the Road’ is the standout number,” he tells me. “It accompanies Dorothy and the others as they are heading down the Yellow Brick Road; it’s the song from the show that people will be familiar with. There are also some great ballads and choral numbers in the show.”
This is not Twin Productions first time doing The Wiz; “We did it in 2004,” Séan recalls. “This time around we have a new set designer on board and a new lighting team and a new musical director –Eoin Corcoran- so this production will be different from the one we did before. It will be really sharp and very good, colourful production.”
The Wiz features a cast of 50 among which are Declan J. Gardiner (who also choreographs the show ) as the Wizard, Siofra Ni Chuileain as Evilline, the Wicked Witch, Keith Hanley as the Scarecrow, Michael Heaney as Lion, and Jay Hannon as Tin Man.
The Wiz runs at the Town Hall from Wednesday August 22 to Sunday August 26. Tickets are €19/€17 and can be purchased at the Town Hall box office or online at https://tht.ie/2997/the-wiz where full details of show times on each day are also available.