Casting in progress for youth and adult roles; rehearsals begin in September.
Children’s Theater of Madison (CTM) opens its 2023/24 season in October with “The Wiz,” an adaptation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that brings the story of Dorothy and her journey to the stage in a celebration of Black culture and music. Jamal Howard, returning for his second year with CTM, is the director and choreographer. Music director is Christie Chiles Twillie, and costume designer is Gregory Graham.
“’The Wiz’ has been on our wish list for a long time, but we needed the right people and support,” said Roseann Sheridan, artistic director. “With Jamal Howard’s direction and leadership, now is the time to share it with our community.”
Howard, based in Chicago, directed and choreographed CTM’s “The Mole Hill Stories” last season. Involved in theater since his childhood, Howard understands the potential impact of theater on young people and its lessons that carry through life. He encourages area youth to audition for a role.
“In true CTM style, young performers work side by side with professional adult actors, which makes a great learning experience,” said Brian Cowing, CTM’s incoming interim artistic director, who will replace Sheridan when she retires at the end of August. “We’re looking for high-energy cast members who like to sing, dance and perform. Our goal is to have an all-Black cast.”
The show requires 14-18 cast members, in a variety of ages, most who will play multiple roles.
Virtual (recorded) auditions are welcome, and no experience is necessary. CTM is offering a special opportunity for youth interested in the show: “The Wiz Experience,” a free summer music camp for youth ages 10-14, presented in partnership with The Center for Black Excellence and Culture, on Saturdays, July 8, 15 and 22 from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fountain of Life Church.
“It’s a fun opportunity to get to know the songs, dances and scenes from ‘The Wiz,’” said Sheridan. “Participation doesn’t mean being cast in the show but gives youth a chance to work with and be seen by the directors.”
For lead roles, the team is looking for individuals who are inspirational, who have a natural ability to draw in the audience—and who “can sing to the heavens.”
“’The Wiz’ is a non-stop, exciting ride that contains many genres of music—hip hop, jazz, Motown, Gospel, contemporary and more,” said Howard. “There’s a feeling of dancing through the show, dancing your way through Oz.”
For example, “I Was Born the Day Before Yesterday,” sung by Scarecrow, has a Motown feel, and “Brand New Day,” shared when Dorothy is liberated from the Wicked Witch, is a praise-filled celebration of song and dance.
According to Howard, there are few opportunities for Black youth to see themselves in stories.
“In ‘The Wiz,’ Black kids will really see themselves on stage, connect with the plot and relate to the characters,” he said.
Howard, Sheridan and Cowing describe “The Wiz” as a story about finding courage within yourself to stand up for and be proud of who you are—as well as a story about your sense of home—finding safety, love, community, encouragement and strength in times of turmoil and trouble and how to ask for help.
While many shows that represent race highlight repression and struggle, “The Wiz” is a story of joy. The storyline is based on the original 1900 children’s novel and has not been performed in Madison since 1985.
“This is a chance to introduce a revolutionary musical to the next generation of Black youth, an opportunity to celebrate, embrace and gather together,” said Howard. “Therefore, it’s vital for our Black community to participate in and attend this show.”
The CTM team is excited to present “The Wiz” October 7-22 in The Playhouse at Overture Center for the Arts. Rehearsals start Thursday, Sept. 7, evenings and weekends, at Madison Youth Arts (MY Arts). In addition, there are behind-the-scenes paid opportunities for technical crew, such as wardrobe, sound and costume construction. If interested, email email@example.com or go to ctmtheater.org/get-involved.