When it premiered in 1974, “The Wiz” was largely considered a novelty. It brought a black cast and an urban milieu to Frank L. Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” which had already been adapted into one of the most beloved musical films of all time. It received mediocre reviews and some people saw it as pandering to African-American audiences emerging from the Civil Rights movement.
But the years have shown that the criticism was misguided. “The Wiz” won the Tony Award for Best Musical. A film version that starred Diana Ross and Michael Jackson and a hit single version of “Ease on Down the Road” cemented the show’s status as an important and highly entertaining musical for all audiences. Now, 42 years later, it’s rightly considered a classic.
The version that opens Saturday at the Manatee Performing Arts Center isn’t likely to be as polished as the Broadway or film versions, or the recent live television production, but it ought to be just as much fun. Students from the Center’s Broadway Bootcamp will take the roles of Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Wiz and all the other classic characters. Audiences may get a chance to see the stars of the future, or at least the stars of future Manatee Players shows.
Details: July 23-24, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. 7 Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday. $27-$37. 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.