When people think of The Wiz, if they think of The Wiz at all, chances are they think of the camp-tastic Motown Productions joint that starred Diana Ross and Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor (oh my) in one of the most hilarious miscalculations ever to hit the '70s screen. But if they're theater buffs, they might also think of the critically acclaimed, multi-Tony Award-winning super-soul powerhouse of a musical that preceded it, significant on many levels, but most of all for being the first big-budget Broadway production with an all-black cast.
That's the book the Afterthought Theatre Co. will be working from for its upcoming Wiz production, and while it may not have the budget of its first incarnation, it does have a famous Glinda the Good Witch: Mary Louise Lee, Mayor Michael Hancock's wife.
Funny story about that: "She just showed up for auditions, and I was told, you know, Michael Hancock's wife is auditioning,'" recalls Bernie Cardell, director of the production. "So there was a woman auditioning whose last name was Hancock, and I just kind of assumed that must be her -- but Mary Louise Lee of course goes by Mary Louise Lee, so I didn't even know who she was when she auditioned."
Not that it would have made much of a difference. As Cardell observes, Lee doesn't really need her husband's position to make it in the theater world, something she's been doing since high school; she's worked as an actress for the Arvada Center and the Denver Center, and she's got a pretty sweet jazz and R&B band on the side. "She has a gorgeous voice," Cardell promises. "She'll knock your socks off." And she'll be in good company with the production's five-piece band that'll be rendering the original Wiz's acclaimed tunes -- seriously, the original Wiz boasted some of the best tunes ever to come out of Broadway.
The only downside: Hancock was elected the week after Lee auditioned, which threw some considerable potential snags into her schedule -- so in the case she can't make it, she does have an understudy to fill in for her.
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Still, even with the box-office draw of the mayor's wife in a role, Cardell says, "I think the most exciting part of this production is the music. We've got some wonderful talent in this show."