The closer the days get to Dec. 3, the excitement builds for NBC’s The Wiz Live (people are talking sleepovers; and by people… adults) as well as the Broadway revival set for 2016-17. Daily and weekly behind-the-scenes social media updates have given feverish fans of the Kenny Leon-directed project an inside look to choreography courtesy Cirque du Soleil, contemporary costume work by Tony-nominated Paul Tazewell and magical makeup effects by Dave Elsey and Lou Elsey. The Wiz celebrates its 40th year, and, no, Black don’t crack. Despite the naysayers who feel the musical is mediocre or are skeptical about the latest installment of the work, the event is sure to be a win-win experience.
And, speaking of winning…
When it was announced that the song “You Can’t Win” would be featured in the production, I’d like to think that music icon Michael Jackson did the Moonwalk. Shanice Williams, the 2015 “Dorothy,” made a y’all-ain’t-ready post when referring to vocals by Elijah Kelley – the 2015 “Scarecrow” – during a rehearsal of the song.
For the 1978 film of the musical based on L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” Jackson performed the soulful Charles Smalls anthem that was originally written for the Broadway show. By opening night, however, the number – which was performed by the Winkies – was cut. The solo for the Scarecrow in the stage version was “I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday” – a commanding narrative with its “This time I’m going to make it” and “Gonna lift my head up/Can you feel my spirit” lyrics – but it was dropped for the film version. “You Can’t Win” was then resurrected, and the depressing albeit upbeat ditty became the second single (produced by Quincy Jones) to be released from The Wiz: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.
In a New York Times article, The Wiz playwright William F. Brown – who called the film version starring Diana Ross awful – discussed the song as being a “Black message song.” Brown, who is White, said: “But it’s all changed. Black people can win. And this is not a Black message show. It’s everybody’s show.” I think it’s pretty safe to say, that some Black people weren’t winning in the 70s. Should the thought be that Black people are winning in 2015, it might be necessary for some re-thinking. In light of the disturbing climate of race relations today, the song can take on a greater meaning when it is broadcast to millions of viewers.
It’s not necessary to have a “can’t-nobody-sing-it-like-MJ” focus in regard to the song. Kelley, and no one else for that matter, will sing it like the infamous King of Pop. Yet, belting out the pain and the contempt is what will do the song justice. Remember, the film’s scene opens with the Scarecrow being mocked for his inspirational quotes and imploring his freedom. Before singing The Crow Anthem, he is forced to recite The Crow Commandments: “Thou shall honor all crows”; “Thou shall stop reading all bits of paper and literature”; and “Thou shall never, never get down offa dis here pole.”
The Wiz movie clips: http://j.mp/1LmZVy6 BUY THE MOVIE: http://amzn.to/sBeUfl Don’t miss the HOTTEST NEW TRAILERS: http://bit.ly/1u2y6pr CLIP DESCRIPTION: The Four Crows torment Scarecrow (Michael Jackson), making him repeat the Crow Commandments and sing the Crow Anthem. FILM DESCRIPTION: Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz is the film version of the popular Broadway musical that retells the events of L.
In Jackson’s 1988 autobiography, Moonwalk, he said: “The song was about humiliation and helplessness – something that so many people have felt at one time or another – and the feeling that there are people out there who don’t actively hold you back as much as they work quietly on your insecurities so that you hold yourself back.”
It also is interesting to note what Dr. Elwood Watson said about the The Wiz and the symbolism of the scene in his book Pimps, Wimps, Studs, Thugs and Gentlemen: Essays on Media Images of Masculinity. He noted that the work suggests “African Americans carry the scars and the idea of racism in their bodies.”
“Daily, Scarecrow begs The Crows to liberate him so that he can pursue his quest for a brain, intellect development… The scene invokes African American experiences in the south and the ritual lynching of African American men. The Crows, however, have no intention of doing bodily harm to the Scarecrow – theirs is a more insidious violence… The Crow Commandments invokes the laws that forbid educating slaves… The Crows reinforce Scarecrow’s subjection at their hands through a song… that aims to disabuse Scarecrow of any aspirations toward freedom.
“The Crows are even more disadvantaged than Scarecrow because, unlike him, they are hopeless. The Crow’s chorus… reflects their disillusionment with their inability to realize the promise of upward mobility. The Crows are suspicious, and perhaps justifiably so, of optimistic political discourse that promise substantive change… The Crows, then, become symbolic of a potentially negative family dynamic, one that subjugates its members and does not encourage an exploration of alternative constructions of the self.”
Much can be ascertained when digging a little deeper. Of course, now you may have some rage and tears welling up. However, you can look at it this way: if you’ve ever listened to a song by 70s soul singer Donny Hathaway, you can’t help but to feel invigorated from the despair his lyrics tackle. “You Can’t Win” – with refrains such as “Better cool it ‘cause it ain’t about losing,” “Ain’t the way it’s supposed to be” and “Learn your lesson/Refuel your mind” – can prompt a negotiation for winning.
No, you don’t need tickets for NBC’s The Wiz (and please don’t pose that question to Broadway Black founder Drew Shade). You just need a TV, preferably with surround sound, to journey to Emerald City (with a makeover provided by Tony winner and Broadway icon Harvey Fierstein, who will contribute new material to the original book by Brown). If you need to be reminded of the musical’s impact and what’s to come, chile, revisit Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary Concert. Its tribute to The Wiz – featuring Monica, Deborah Cox, Al Jarreau and Jill Scott as the Scarecrow – is just one more brick to the building of excitement.
The Wiz Home : Monica You Can’t Win :Jill Scott Ease on Down the Road:Monica, Jill Scott ,Deborah Cox ,Al Jarreau
What do you think about the song?
We Were There: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Playwright, educator, opera singer, and Queen, Mfoniso Udofia has two plays running at New York Theatre Workshop. *pause* TWO PLAYS. In the SAME season!?!? *ends congratulatory gasp* Sojourners and Her Portmanteau are performed in repertory, as two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle. Admittedly, before researching each show, I didn’t know the definition of either word; and in the spirit of keeping it consistent with the honesty, I didn’t like either play. I loved them.
Minimalism seems to be the name of the game these days. I sat down to a completely black stage, sans a multimedia display lodged on the ceiling at a 45-degree angle. Clutching my all white program and bobbing my head to the ‘70s pop rock pre-show music, I prepared my heart for the story of Sojourners, well at least that was the plan. The stage begins to rotate and we meet Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour), Nigerian expatriates sojourning in Houston, Texas with the plan to start a family, earn their degrees, and go back to Nigeria until life happens.
Charming and handsome, Ukpong becomes defined by his leather jacket, shoulder work and shimmy which match the fascination and yearning for freedom that illuminates his eyes every time he talks of peace, protest, and Prince–all shaping his view of 1970s America, and consequently, the American Dream. But does leather compensate for grit? Is a movement or vibe really a panacea for disappointment, aimlessness, and a need to find yourself? Abasiama enters the play pregnant, purposed, and outfitted in pieces of Nigerian garb, grounded in duty showing a stark contrast to Ukpong who floats in desire. What’s lost in your household is found elsewhere, and this is when we start to see, and root for, Abasiama’s transformation from timid to tenacious.
Enter Moxie (Lakisha May), a colorful prostitute turned protector and friend. There is a mutual respect despite great differences between her and Abasiama, with their love for one another creating moments that make you believe in the beauty of humanity. Enter Disciple (Chinaza Uche), another warm and determined hearted immigrant who has come to the United States to study, rounding out the timely additions of love, support, and security when Abasiama needed them the most.
Through and through this is Abasiama’s story and she glows. Her kindness, her sisterhood, her strength, her worthiness, and the realization of her American Dream, guide her decisions—which is the catalyst behind the entire Ufot Cycle.
Her “portmanteau”, or red suitcase, makes a return as 30 years have passed. Abasiama now has two daughters, one raised in America and the other who has come from Nigeria to reconnect with her family.
This is a good moment to mention that each story is informed by the other, but can certainly stand alone on substance, content, and the amazing direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. The staging is exciting and deliberate, while minimal, putting the full focus on the tension and growth to be expected of a family reunited after a substantial amount of time and distance.
Chinasa Ogbuagu returns to the stage, this time as the American-born daughter, Adiagha Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Ukpong and Abasiama’s daughter), and Jenny Jules as the mother, Abasiama Ufot.
Seated on a couch in Adiagha’s small New York Apartment, no amount of preparation readies your mind and spirit to form the words to make up for 30 years of life, connection, and memories missed. We’re taken on a ride of resentment, hurt, love, and forgiveness, as the portmanteau is literally unpacked. We watch the teeter-tottering between offense and defense as one sister tries to assimilate into American culture, and the other attempts, albeit stubbornly, to fall in formation in honoring a family she shares blood with, but little time or tangible history.
It’s powerful to see a story of history and continuing a legacy despite lost time, faulty promises, and difficult choices explored with an all-woman cast as far too often the idea of legacy is framed in patriarchy. Jules admirably takes Abasiama through the fire to heal, to feel, and to fix her family. The narrative allows us to empathize and understand the struggle that comes with upholding family values versus cultivating a space to achieve personal dreams and happiness.
Her Portmanteau (and Sojourners) is written in a way that finds your soul, gently massaging it with humor, while leaving it with very real questions. I’ve never felt a greater need to binge read nine stories and simultaneously study the story of my own family tree. I left changed. I left wrapped in the strength of my mom and my mom’s- mom’s sacrifice. I left pensive and with seeds of future forgiveness planted. I left changed.
For capturing our hearts with wit and with truth. For putting Black women at the center of a poignant narrative. For unapologetically telling a story you haven’t seen told and telling it in the way you want it to be told.
We thank you Mfoniso. We thank you.
Have you seen the #duetplays? Sound off in the comments below![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
Last winter, we reported on Sojourners by playwright Mfoniso Udofia, a new play about a Nigerian family who has come to America with the goal of earning a college education, starting a family, and returning to Nigeria. But not without the twists and turns that come along with every plan that seems straightforward.
Thanks to New York Theatre Workshop, we get to relive this moment and continue the dialogue, decades later, with Her Portmanteau. Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family.
Ed Sylvanus Iskandar directs the two-part story in association with The Playwrights Realm, who premiered Sojourners last winter in a limited engagement world premiere production. Her Portmanteau also received the 2016 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award grant.
As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, we have an exclusive deal for our Broadway Black readers!
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price!
Yes. That’s two shows for one price! The discount code BWYBLACK will take 50% off tickets to ANY performance(s) if purchased by May 15th!
Go ahead and grab your tickets. We have ours!
Sojourners and Her Portmanteau plays at NYTW until June 4th.