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Local production of The Wiz to honour Holder

Published: 
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Klye Richardson as Scarecrow with Jeannine Clarke who plays The Wicked Witch of the West. PHOTO: SEGRID CARTER

Proscenium Theatre Company will premiere The Wiz, based on L Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on November 6, at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s. The production will be reprised on November 7 to 9 at the same venue. 

Proscenium director Andrew Seepersad said: “Mervyn (de Goeas) and I chose this show in February 2014 because we wanted to highlight the impact that Geoffrey Holder made as a Trinidadian on the international stage. His designs and direction of the show was anchored in our Carnival street theatre—telling powerful stories through costuming and movement. As a people, we should be so proud of his body of work and should celebrate that one of our own was awarded one of the highest accolades for theatre. Additionally, we have the opportunity to further Mr Holder’s work. 

“Staying true to his initial intent—we can update his references and bring the show into a modern setting. This allows us to create the Trini version without affecting the integrity of the original work. Through design, direction and music—we will use the piece to connect to our audience in a new way. We feel particular passionate about honouring Mr Holder’s work given his recent passing. We really want to celebrate his legacy and contribution to the Arts.” 

De Goeas said: “The timing of this work is serendipitous, especially as we didn’t even know that Mr Holder was ill. At one point some time ago we even approached Mr Holder’s management to try to get him to come to Trinidad to participate in this production. There has never been a full scale production of this work locally. We only got news that Mr Holder wasn’t well when we got news of his passing on Sunday (October 5). But, it is what it is and the show will go on. At this stage I am very happy and proud to be a part of it, specifically for the Geoffrey Holder connection.” 

In October 1975, The Wiz—a complete re-imagining of the classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—opened to wide critical acclaim on Broadway. It was a breath of fresh air on the theatre scene. The production featured an all-African American cast with music that referenced heavily from that culture: jazz, rhythm and blues, motown and gospel. The costumes, designed by Holder, were heavily influenced by his background. 

The Wiz was so highly regarded that it went on to win seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Direction and Best Costume Design. About the creative process for the production, Seepersad said: “The costumes for our production of The Wiz will build on Mr Holder’s vision. We will be utilising our innate Carnival talents and artisans to incorporate local elements into the design without being literal. 

“For instance, the standard character of the winged monkey will be a version of a Moko Jumbie; the Scarecrow a version of a Pierrot Grenade; and, the Evil Witch a version of the Baby Doll. 

“Beyond the initial design, the costume construction will utilise Carnival elements, like wire-bending, cane-working and beading. We will also be using modern jewelry makers to create accessory pieces. The intent is to bring The Wiz to our T&T audience with a contemporary urban Carnival texture, while still holding strong to our roots.”

Seepersad continued: “As far as dance is concerned this is one area where we intend to fully use our artistic license. We will be incorporating our heritage into the choreography, inclusive of elements of bélé, stilt dancing, the Tobago Jig, all to be referenced. 

“We want the choreography to be fluid and dynamic—so although we will be using a professional choreographer, we will be work- shopping the cast to see what they can create and bring into the forum. We will take this internationally acclaimed work and create something new, vibrant and completely Trinidadian and Tobagonian.” 

A third component of the production, music is being treated in a special way. “The original score drew reference from the African-American culture in the 1970s which has similar origins to calypso,” said Seepersad. 

“We’ve been work-shopping with the soloists and musicians to be able to perform the music comfortably in our own voice and within the context of our own culture.” 

(Reporting by Peter Ray Blood)

About Proscenium Theatre Company 

Founded in 2011, Proscenium Theatre Company has since presented three successful productions: Rent, Rabbit Hole and Little Shop of Horrors. The company is run by Andrew Seepersad, a finance professional with strong theatre ties. Proscenium’s in-house director is Cacique award winner Mervyn de Goeas. 

Most recently, they co-directed the opening and closing segments for the 2014 Dimanche Gras show. Choreography for the show is by Linda Pollard-Lake, dance veteran who was given the Vanguard Award at the recently concluded Coco Dance Festival. 

The Wiz: Main characters 

• Michaillean Taylor – The Wiz 

• Tishanna Williams – Dorothy 

• Maurice Morancie – Tinman 

• Kevin Humphrey – Lion 

• Aurora Tardieu, Karen Francisco and • Jeannine Clarke – Three Witches 

• Klye Richardson and Justin Zepherine – alternating as Scarecrow and Lord High Underling

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