The iconic musical “The Wiz” has made its way back to the stage here in the District and is now being showcased at Ford’s Theatre in Northwest, running through May 12.
And to speak about the continued importance of the groundbreaking play — the first Broadway musical that presented Blacks in a positive light — director Kent Gash, himself an accomplished veteran of the industry, talked with The Washington Informer and shared his insightful views:
Washington Informer: How do you put together a play that’s already so well known to most viewers?
Kent Gash: That’s the fun. People think they know it from TV, the MGM film or even ‘The Wiz’ when it was on Broadway. Still, it’s important to remember that it was a huge success that ushered in a new generation of Black theater on Broadway. Without “The Wiz,” there would not have been a “Hamilton.” Bringing this show back to the stage allows us to once more celebrate a classic story that uplifts Black excellence in all things.
The great thing about “The Wiz” is it’s a special, loving and contemporary version of a classic tale about home, family and an impossibly smart, kind, Black girl who goes to a magical place where she eventually realizes that she’s more magical and more powerful than she could have ever imagined.
Along the way, we’re treated with a great R&B, jazz and soul-influenced score with songs like “Ease on Down the Road,” “Home,” “Believe” and “Everybody Rejoice” which was written by Luther Vandross and to which he referred as one of his personal favorites.
WI: Have you been having a good time?
Gash: Oh yes, certainly. This is just like going to a party where everyone can enjoy themselves. Then, we have featured on stage many singers, dancers, actors and storytellers that are from the DMV. There’s so much talent here and we looked first to this area to fill the roles. When you think about it, there’s no more appropriate time than the present to talk about Black girl excellence in D.C. than today.
We did our casting here in D.C., but some of our actors come from Baltimore and Virginia too. We started our casting very early so that we could get the very best. D.C. is rich with gifted talent — some are youth early in their careers while others are award-winning veterans.
WI: Why does this play resonate with so many people?
Gash: Look, we all have homes and families. We’ve all had rich imaginations when we were children and many of us once wondered about the world outside of our own communities. But I’ve learned that while many places are interesting and fascinating to me, there’s no place like home. That’s what Dorothy learns in the play, too.
WI: Speaking about Dorothy, tell us about the actress you’ve chosen to play the iconic role.
Gash: Our Dorothy, Ines Nassara, is a genius. She’s spectacular, warm, has a radiant soul and is an amazing singer. But most important, she has that light that’s vital to pull off this role. Our scenic director was once watching her during rehearsal and described her as “pure sunshine.”
But it’s more than just her talent — it’s her heart and soul that are so true. She’s magnificent and I just adore her.
WI: What do you hope audiences will take with them upon the play’s conclusion?
Gash: I hope they’ll have a sense of Dorothy’s spirit and of her heart and kindness. Everyone she meets in Oz becomes important to her. And her first and immediate response is to help them. She joins them in their struggles. Finally, she realizes her own inner strength.
I hope we all take a part of the love of family that is the foundation of this play and which we all experience in our own homes. It’s the soil that fertilizes a plan and that we then go out and spread to the rest of the world. We use our unique gifts that help us enjoy being alive. And in this play, there’s a celebration of being Black. You see something similar in “Black Panther.”
We [Blacks] have enriched life on this planet since our first days.