› What: “The Wiz”
› Where: Chattanooga Theatre Centre, 400 River St.
› When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, 7 p.m. Thursdays; Sept. 15-Oct. 1
› Admission: $7-$30
› For more information: 423-267-8534
› Sept. 21: Live captioning for the hearing-impaired
› Sept. 22: Talk-back with directors and cast after show
The Chattanooga Theatre Centre will open its 2017-2018 season with a highly anticipated production of "The Wiz," the urban reimagining of Frank Baum's classic novel, "The Wizard of Oz."
"The Wiz" is an exuberant journey down the Yellow Brick Road with a rock, gospel and soul twist on the tale of Dorothy's journey to find the Wizard of Oz. The production opens at the CTC on Friday, Sept. 15, continuing for 10 performances through Oct. 1.
A multicultural cast of 41 actors under the guest direction of Shane Morrow will bring this story to life. Many of the actors will be new faces to CTC patrons.
"Out of 41 cast members, only nine have been in shows at the Theatre Centre," says Julie Van Valkenburg, marketing director for the CTC.
"Our diversity initiative is focused not only on getting younger and more diverse audiences, but also having more diversity onstage. We're delighted to have so many talented newcomers."
The storyline and characters are largely faithful to the 1939 movie version of Baum's story. It begins on a tumbledown farm in Kansas, where Dorothy, a bright, energetic teenager, is being scolded by her Aunt Em for not accepting her responsibilities.
Aunt Em/Glinda: Neshawn Calloway
Addaperle: Nicole Coleman
Dorothy: Maya Jaffar
The Wiz: Karen McReynolds
Evillene: Donyea Mitchell
Tin Man: Donel Solomon
Scarecrow: Darryl Wheeler
Lion: Tiffany Williams
A tornado, played by a colorful collection of dancers, sweeps up the farmhouse and carries it to the strange and mystical Land of Oz, where it kills the Wicked Witch of the East. The witch's death causes quite a stir among the Munchkins and the zany Good Witch of the North, Addaperle. When Dorothy asks how she is to get back to Kansas, they advise her to visit the great Oz.
As she journeys down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy encounters a hip Scarecrow, who wants to join her because he has a feeling he isn't going anywhere; an uptight Tin Man, who needs Dorothy's help to hang loose again; and a cowardly Lion, who has lost faith in the psychiatric help he's been getting from an owl.
Playing this trio of beloved travel companions are Darryl Wheeler as Scarecrow, Donel Solomon as Tin Man and Tiffany Williams as the Lion.
Together they "Ease on Down the Road," undoubtedly the best-known of the many lively musical numbers in "The Wiz."
After trials and tribulations, they finally meet the Wiz, who agrees to grant their wishes as a package deal — if they knock off Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West. From there, the adventure accelerates as the foursome determine how far they are willing to go to fulfill their dreams and help Dorothy find her way home. But don't expect Dorothy to click ruby slippers to get back home — in this glittering production, they're silver.
Making her debut at the CTC in the lead role of Dorothy is Maya Jaffar. The musical theater major at Reinhardt University north of Atlanta has been making two-hour drives nightly from college to Chattanooga for rehearsals.
"It's totally worth it! I wouldn't change it," says the Heritage High School graduate. "I just went in with the intention to audition for the show and happened to get Dorothy."
Jaffar says Dorothy's curiosity about the world is one of the things that appeals about her character.
"I think that's awesome. I'm a very curious person, too. I like her mindset; she's energetic and eager to learn."
The collegian describes the musical's choreography as "very energetic, very big. We have a lot of talented dancers, and the choreographer has used what she has to light it up."
Dorothy's role is demanding not only for the acting, but because she either solos or is part of ensembles for 10 of the show's 20 vocal numbers. Of those, "Home" is her favorite "simply because it is a classic," she says.
The actress credits the professionalism of this cast and crew for making her CTC debut unforgettable.
"There is so much talent. So many great vocals. The dancing and singing are on point. Also the diversity in the production — it's more than all black people. We have Hispanics, whites, and we're family. We love being together, and it shows."
The team of professionals lending their creative vision to the production include Felicion McMillon-Diakhate, choreographer; Jacquelyn Cox, lighting designer; Phillip Jones, sound design; Philip Luckey, projections design; Terrance Wright, costume designer; and Sarah Miecielica and Rondell Crier, set designers.
For more information, call the Theatre Centre box office at 423-267-8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com.