Schele Williams was approximately six years old when she first attended a production of The Wiz. She remembers the experience as the first time she saw herself represented onstage. “The Wiz taught me so much about my Blackness at a young age, when I saw it in Dayton, Ohio,” Williams shared in the upcoming episode of The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal. “It’s the first time I saw me onstage, and that was exciting.”
Williams — a Broadway performer-turned-director — has been tapped to share that excitement with a new generation of audience members as she helms the 2024 revival of The Wiz, which will tour the U.S. ahead of landing on the Main Stem.
In this week’s episode of The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal, Williams chats with Paul Wontorek about the history of The Wiz and the motivation behind her approach for the revival.
Williams recalled that when the musical debuted on the Main Stem in 1975, “there wasn’t a lot of confidence that it was going to be lasting,” she said. But the launch of one television commercial changed everything.
“It took two seconds for people to go, ‘What was that?’” Williams said. She said the ad made an important distinction about the musical. “It’s a show where Black people were like, ‘Oh this is us,’” Williams shared. “Not just Black people onstage, but real authentic representation.”
Part of that authenticity came directly from star Stephanie Mills, who originated the role of Dorothy. As Williams said, Mills’ voice didn’t sound like it was trained at a conservatory: “She sounded like she came outta church.” That sound, combined with Geoffrey Holder’s costume design and direction, contributed to the cultural credibility that made audiences buy tickets.
The original The Wiz ran for more than four years (1,672 performances). Forty-eight years later, Williams aims to create a Wiz that is just as inspiring for a new generation of theatergoers. The seed for Williams’ vision begins with her children. She thought of her 12- and 13-year-old daughters and asked herself: “What are they looking to see when they see Dorothy?”
“When I read the script, what I saw was a girl who was seeking belonging — who felt like she didn’t fit in where she was,” Williams said. Throughout the course of the musical, Dorothy “finds her tribe,” amid the quirks and bravery of the characters she encounters. The group learns to problem-solve, and Dorothy gains faith in herself.
“When I saw that in the story, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a gift to my daughters,’” Williams said.
With her kids in mind, Williams and the rest of the creative team set out to cast a company to match this vision. In addition to industry veterans like Emmy Award-winner Wayne Brady and Grammy nominee Deborah Cox, newcomer Nichelle Lewis will lead the company as Dorothy. While a theater has not yet been announced for the 2024 revival, the tour is set to open at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre on Sept. 23 — and Williams is eager for audiences to see it.
“I feel so honored more than anything,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world. I cannot wait to share this beautiful story again with people who love it and to introduce it to new generations.”
This week’s episode of The Broadway Show also features an interview with current Hamilton star Miguel Cervantes. Fadal shares information about the first-ever summer edition of Kids’ Night on Broadway. Charlie Cooper walks and talks with Shucked star Kevin Cahoon, and Beth Stevens interviews Kimberly Akimbo book writer and lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire and composer Jeanine Tesori.