Dorothy's journey home to Kansas is the subject of L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The book is dear to Kansans, despite the gray and dreary picture it paints of the state. Over the years, Dorothy's travels have been brought to new generations through many adaptations of the original novel. One of these is the award-winning musical, The Wiz, which presents the story from an African American cultural perspective.
Kenneth Harper was the driving force behind the musical production of The Wiz. A deejay living in New York, Harper originally pitched his idea of an all-Black musical to the television networks as a family special. None of them believed the show would make money or could compete in popularity with the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland. So, Harper set his sights on Broadway.
The first-time producer chose an unlikely pair of white writers to bridge the cultural gap. William Brown and Sam Bobrick stuck to the novel's major themes while writing the musical's book, selecting subjects that transcend cultural boundaries: leaving home, getting into and out of trouble, looking within for answers, and learning that believing in yourself is what really matters. The main characters remained untouched, while others were changed to give new dimensions to their personalities. Glinda the Good Witch of the North was transformed into Addaperle, the comical Witch of the North. Wicked witch Evillene became scarier and more menacing than the original Wicked Witch of the East. And, of course, the Wizard of Oz got a new persona as "The Wiz."
Composer and writer Charlie Smalls accompanied Brown's words with a unique score. Songs entitled Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News, Be a Lion, Ease on Down the Road, and If You Believe offered classical storytelling with an upbeat, jazzy, rhythm and blues feel.
The Wiz opened in one of Broadway's largest house, the Majestic Theater, on January 5, 1975. Despite initial mixed reviews and the threat of closing, the show continued its run for nearly four years and 1,672 performances. It almost swept the 1975 Tony Awards, snapping up prizes for Best Musical, Best Direction, Best Book of a Musical, Best Featured Actress, Best Featured Actor, Best Score, and Best Choreography. Although not as successful as the musical, the 1978 film version starred such greats as Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Lena Horne.
Almost four decades after its opening night, The Wiz is still being staged in theaters across the United States, guaranteeing it a place in the country's cultural landscape and history books.
These record albums were donated to the Kansas Museum of History in 2010 by Susie Buffet, an avid collector of Wizard of Oz objects. Included in the donation are recordings of both the original Broadway score (top) and the motion picture soundtrack (bottom).
Entry: Wiz Albums
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: July 2011
Date Modified: February 2017
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.