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Exclusive: Amber Riley and Stephanie Mills Talk The Wiz Live!

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Can’t you feel a brand new day? By now you’ve probably watched The Wiz Live! behind the scenes special on NBC last Wednesday, caught the performance at Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, set your DVR, and bought your tickets to come to the super awesome Broadway Black viewing party to get you pumped for The Wiz Live! this Thursday. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?

As it is, this happens to be the season of giving and over here at Broadway Black we value the performers and productions we write about, but we also value all of our readers.  So in the spirit of giving, Broadway Black has some exclusive interviews with the cast and creative team of The Wiz Live! that should hold you over until December 3rd at 8 p.m. Check out our interview with Amber Riley and Stephanie Mills as they talk about their roles, being apart of something “iconic” and their Broadway futures!

Broadway Black (BB): Now you’re playing Addaperle. That’s different from people who are used to watching the movie where there is Miss One. How did you find the difference between dong this role and not taking from the movie and not taking from previous renditions of it?
Amber Riley(AR):  That was really hard because I cannot count the amount of times that I’ve watch the movie. But I think I just tried to kind of erase my mind. I went over it at home and I did things that I found that were funny. Like the things  in the lines I tried to just find the comedy in it. [Trying it] in a way that I would say it, not the way somebody else would deliver it. And when I first did it I actually got laughs, so I was like okay I did a good job!
BB: So what have you discovered about Aunt Em that have given you any aha moments from your previous experience with The Wiz? Like “oh this is what this means” or “oh this is something that has changed my view of this show.” 
Stephanie Mills (SM): Well Aunt Em is drastically different from Dorothy  having a son and being an aunt. Dorothy, she wasn’t worried about nothing but Toto. With Aunt Em I’m worried about Dorothy, I’m worried about the storm coming, so it’s very maternal.
When asked if they were nervous about performing on live televsion, Riley laughs. Mills chimes in “She’s done this before! I’ve never done this. She’s comfortable. I’m not. I’m petrified! But what saves it is that we are rehearsing it like it was a show. I think that’s whats making us really comfortable. So when Dec 3rd comes we’ll be ready.”
BB: So do you think not having an audience and doing this live version, does that take away from the theatre aspect?
SM: Me doing Broadway and theatre you’re trained to not care — not care, but not to react to laughter so it doesn’t bother me too much.
BB: But the energy is different correct?
AR: Yeah, but I do TV (laughs), so I’m used to performing to the crew. 
BB: What are you most excited to see. Even though you might not be apart of the scene, what part of the production are you most excited to see? What are you excited about?
AR: I can’t wait to see Shanice. I’m telling you that girl, she’s a star. 
SM: Yes!
AR: This is really, this is iconic. The fact that this was something that was created so long ago and people from different ages are excited to see it and know what it is. When you can withstand tests of time, you know it’s great. [The Wiz} is something my mom saw when she was young and now it means something to me. That’s really great and now my niece is going to be able to watch and she’s four years old.
SM: [On what connects people to The Wiz] I think because everyone needs courage, brains, and everyone wants to have a heart. You know what I’m saying, it relates to feelings and growing up. Dorothy goes through all of that to realize what she had was right there at home, right inside of her and I think we all do that. I know I’ve gone through it. It relates to everybody.
After it’s all said and done, Riley wants nothing more than to get back to the sunshine of LA and get back to her own “home.” However we have a feeling Ms. Riley won’t stray from New York City for too long.
BB: So is this a good transition for you into the theatre community?
AR: Yes. (laughs) I already knew you were gonna ask me that. 
BB: Is there an ideal role that you have?
AR: Yes there is and I can’t talk about it yet. 
BB: For another time?
AR: (Still laughing) Yes for another time. 
The Wiz Live! airs Thursday, December 3rd at 8:00 p.m. EST only on NBC.

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Coming Soon

The Public Theater Will Present Hercules Musical & Hercules Is Black!

Drew Shade

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The Muses via Hercules film

We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when. Back in 2017, we reported that a musical adaptation of the Disney movie Hercules would be headed to Broadway. Now we can confirm that is somewhat true.

Hercules will be the latest Disney musical to be made for the stage and will play Off-Broadway at the Public Theater’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park. As the final show of the Shakespeare in the Park season theater season performances will run August 31 through September 8 with a reading set to take place in April.

The role of Hercules will be played by a Black actor, according to the casting notice

The musical will include the Oscar-nominated “Go the Distance, along with other songs from the 1997 animated film by Alan Menken & David Zippel. Presented through an arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, the show will be directed by Lear deBessonet.  The creative team also includes a book by Kristoffer Diaz, & choreography by Chase Brock.

Before Hercules, Kenny Leon will direct the Much Ado About Nothing May 21 through June 23 to begin the Shakespeare in the Park season.

Casting for all both productions will be announced at a later date

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Coming Soon

Lynn Nottage Today, Tomorrow and Beyond

Broadway Black

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Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Tony Award nominated play Sweat ended its Broadway run at Studio 54 on June 25. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to Sweat, and we’re definitely not ready to say goodbye to Lynn Nottage, leaving us to wonder what’s next for the two-time Pulitzer prize-winning playwright?

First, if you didn’t get a chance to see Sweat on Broadway or if you did but can’t get one of the poorest cities in America off your heart and mind, then you’ll want to visit Reading, Pennsylvania this summer. Shortly after finishing Sweat, Nottage came up with the idea for a site-specific performance installation honoring the people of Reading. Nottage shared that for a city divided by economical and racial politics, she wanted to highlight the city’s potential to use art and culture to bring its citizens together. The installation titled This is Reading will weave “individual stories into one cohesive and compelling tale of the city. Exploring the various viewpoints of the diverse community, [and] give the audience a vibrant and unique perspective of the city of Reading.” The installation will utilize live performance, visual media, and film. Located at Franklin Street Station, Reading PA, This is Reading will run July 14-16, July 21-23 and July 28-30.

What could possibly be next for Nottage? A musical of course!

Not just any musical, but an adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s book, The Secret Life of Bees. Book by Nottage, music by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), lyrics by Susan Birkenhead (Jelly’s Last Jam) and direction by Sam Gold (Fun Home).

Nottage’s first musical follows the story of Lilly Owens, a white teen growing up in 1960’s South Carolina and her Black caretaker Rosaleen. After Rosaleen is hospitalized following an attempt to vote, she and Lily do their best to escape the harsh realities of their respective lives in the Jim Crow South, and happen upon a bee farm. “It sang to me” Nottage said of adapting Kidd’s book to a musical, “Every page I saw a song.”

The Secret Life of Bees will be presented as a workshop production at the Powerhouse Theater from July 27-29, apart of the New York Stage and Film’s 2017 season.

Finally, for the 2017/2018 season, Nottage’s play Mlima’s Tale will make it’s world premiere at The Public Theater and run from March 27 through May 20, 2018. Mlima’s Tale follows the story of Mlima, an african elephant caught between freedom and the

Courtesy of The Public Theater

international ivory black market. Ultimately a story about trade itself, “Mlima leads us through memory and fear, history and tradition, want and need, and reveals the surprising and complicated deals that connect us all.” Next season, The Public will celebrate 50 years at its Astor Place location, and Lynn Nottage will be the only Black playwright with work presented.

From a site-specific performance installation, to her first musical, ending with another show at The Public Theater… Lynn Nottage has given us a lot to look forward to following her Broadway debut, and we will be ready. Sitting front and center.

 

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