When deciding what would be his theater company’s inaugural production for Indiana University Northwest’s Theatre Northwest Mainstage, Mark Spencer, director of Masmedia7’s production of “The Wiz,” had his environment in mind.
“It involves so many of our community members and their kids and IUN students and former students,” Spencer said. “I wanted to go with something that was large and family-friendly and community-oriented or this specific production.”
Running Feb. 22-25 at the Theatre Northwest Mainstage at Indiana University Northwest, “The Wiz” is an urban telling of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” As with Baum’s tome and the 1939 big screen classic, "Wiz" finds Dorothy, aided by the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow, make their way to the land of Oz to seek out help from the almighty wizard.
Taking its cue from the musical, which includes stage classics such as “Ease on Down the Road,” “A Brand New Day” and “Believe in Yourself,” “Wiz” took home seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, when it was first staged on Broadway in 1975.
“Wiz” also was brought to the big screen in 1978, featuring cast that included Diana Ross, Richard Pryor and Michael Jackson. A new generation was introduced to “Wiz” in 2015, when a live small screen version aired on NBC.
“It’s a masterpiece,” Spencer said of “Wiz.” “It’s a very smart urban work that highlights and readily accepts a lot of the urban musical vernacular. It’s a light and fun-hearted experience people from all walks of life can appreciate.
Spencer, who is the founder of Gary’s West Side Theater Guild, created Massmedia7 as an outlet to stage productions that may fall out of the artistic purview of West Side’s performers and audiences. He considered bringing the drama “A Soldier’s Story” to Theatre Northwest Mainstage for Massmedia7’s debut show before opting to go with the family-friendly “Wiz.”
“I’m very sensitive to content and subject matter,” Spencer said. “Massmedia7 allows me to delve into (productions by) your David Mamets of the world and Shakespearean pieces.”
Theatre Northwest Mainstage is part of the Arts and Sciences building, which opened on IUN's campus last summer.
Masmedia7’s production of “The Wiz” is made up of more than three dozen actors and singers. The play stars Taylor Iman as Dorothy; Ryan Robinson as the Scarecrow; Dwayne Coleman Jr. as the Tin Man; Lehman Gray as the Cowardly Lion; Altovise Ferguson as Glenda the Good Witch; Markeysha Coleman as Addaperle; Dwayne Coleman Sr. as The Wiz; and Rose Marie Simmons as Evilene.
Admission to "The Wiz" at Theatre Northwest Mainstage is free. Reservations are required. At presstime, limited seats remain available.