The rehearsals of the cast of “The Wiz”, a production of Broadway Over Queen’s, has so impressed Shawn Turnquest, vice principal, head of Queen’s College (QC) High School, to the point that she promises patrons will be amazed by the cast, their performance and the production in general ahead of the final show and what she terms a must-see performance.
“This year, the music…the singers, the cast, rivals any cast on Broadway,” said Turnquest ahead of the production. “Their voices are amazing. Charzia (Curtis, who plays Dorothy) is worth coming to see. You don’t have to go to New York to get a taste of Broadway, it’s Broadway at QC,” said Turnquest.
She sings the praises of the vocal ability of Curtis and says her performance will rival that of well-known singers that have had the role in the past.
This trip down the yellow brick road is the 1978 adaptation of the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” – an upbeat retelling of Dorothy’s journey to find her way home from the magical city of Oz.
When Harlem schoolteacher Dorothy tries to save her dog from a storm, she’s miraculously whisked away to an urban fantasy land called Oz. After accidentally killing the Wicked Witch of the East upon her arrival, Dorothy is told about The Wiz, a wizard who can help her get back to Manhattan. As Dorothy goes in search of the Wiz, she’s joined by the Scarecrow (played by Jordan Gibson), the Tin Man (played by Kaden Jones) and the Cowardly Lion (played by Joshua Ferguson).
It’s a storyline that speaks to self-discovery, believing in oneself and courage.
Curtis, Gibson, Jones and Ferguson are just four people in a cast of approximately 140 as the production expanded this year to include the primary school. The show will be accompanied by a 20-piece live band and soulful pit singers, under the direction of Karel Coleby.
Gregory Deane selected “The Wiz” for the stage this year because of the popularity of the musical, and the fact that he had identified Curtis and Ferguson two years out for the roles of Dorothy and Lion.
“Charzia (Dorothy) was a firecracker in grade eight when we did Grease and was out-acting everyone on stage; she has a beautiful singing voice and personality. Joshua has been a part of QC’s band when we put them in the Music Project. He’s a talented singer, affable young man and the perfect Lion. I saw those characters in Charzia and Joshua, and just had to find my Tin Man and Scarecrow and built it around them (Charzia and Joshua) in mind.”
Curtis and Ferguson have been researching their roles since they were tapped by Deane, who encouraged them to go onto YouTube to study and learn about the characters they would play. He held auditions the third week in September for the rest of the cast; full rehearsals started in October.
He said audiences can expect to see his touch in some of his jokes and hints of Bahamian flavor in the costuming and definitely in terms of set design.
“I had this vision of what ‘The Wiz’ should be if I got the chance to direct.”
He is taking advantage of it.
“A beautifully-imagined set is already in construction atop the school’s center stage. All involved are working tirelessly to make this an unforgettable experience.”
He wants the students and audience to take to heart the message of “The Wiz”, which he said is about being brave and having courage.
“I want them to remember that having courage in themselves and the fact that they can do anything, even when they’re down and out. People may think they’re brave-less, but find the courage to step up to the plate and do something, not just for themselves, but for others. It’s about being brave, finding their own purpose and finding their own courage.”
“The Wiz” will take to the stage at the Geoffrey Brown Auditorium at Queen’s College from March 26 to 28, with nightly shows at 7:30 p.m. and a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee.
Deane said the Broadway Over Queen’s production is an opportunity for the audience to witness musical theater at its finest at home from a talented cast of singers, dancers and actors.
“I want to encourage the theater-loving audience and those who’ve never experienced theater on this scale to come to see this because this is a big production in terms of the money being spent and production value, with lights, sound, set and costuming,” he said.
With this production, Deane himself will be easing on down the road, and the three-day event will be extra memorable for him as it is expected to be his final time producing and directing Broadway Over Queen’s.
“To everything there is a season,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, especially at the level Mrs. [Shawn] Turnquest and myself like to put them on. It is a tremendous amount of work and my body is getting older, so I need to start to step back.”
Stepping back, he said, would allow for a younger person to step up to the plate. But even as he steps away, he said the feeling is “bittersweet” as in the middle of preparations for a show, he said, his creative juices are flowing and he lives for the adrenaline rush, which he will miss along with dashing around and micromanaging, which he identifies as a fault as he likes to ensure that i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. But at the same time, he said, he’s usually totally exhausted.
While Deane looks to step aside after his sixth consecutive production, Turnquest said Broadway Over Queen’s will continue. She said the institution has people in the pipeline who they feel will continue the program, as at QC , the performing arts is an important pillar of education that they offer to their students.
“It’s important we continue to offer avenues for students interested in the performing arts,” said Turnquest. “The performing arts certainly speak to some students but not everyone is a performer. Not everyone is an academician or athlete, and some are interested in the performing arts and enjoy a role in a play or enjoy being a part of the crew, [while] others enjoy simply attending, so to be a school that offers something for every child is important.
“Everyone has come to accept QC to excel academically and we have grown to become an athletic force as well, but for many decades, since I was a student here, even in grade seven, I was a part of the cast of ‘Noah’s Flood’ – QC has had a tradition of excellence to the performing arts.”
She recalled the ‘70s when productions like “Oklahoma!”, “Oliver!” and Fiddler on the Roof” were presented, and continued in recent years with Broadway Over Queen’s productions under Deane’s direction of “Guys and Dolls” in 2014, “Grease” in 2016 and “West Side Story” in 2018; and two revue shows – “Broadway Over Queen’s 1” and “Broadway Over Queen’s Act II” in 2012.
Turnquest described the production of “The Wiz” and all productions they’ve brought to the stage over the years as “massively rewarding” and an “amazing event that’s hard to even quantify in value”.
“It lifts the cultural quotient of the entire nation. It enriches the cultural landscape of our country. QC is happy to be a part of enriching the cultural environment nationally and salute Mr. Deane who is happy to have played a role as well,” she said.
This year Broadway Over Queen’s showcases “The Wiz” as the school celebrates its 130th anniversary. The production is one in a series of celebratory events.
As Deane directs his swan song production, Turnquest said she understands his desire to step aside.
“Mr. Deane has been doing this for many years and it’s a large time commitment and takes a toll on his energy. He almost takes a whole year to prepare for it, and he is thinking that this will be his last one.”
She believes it’s important for people who have attended shows in the past directed by Deane to show their appreciation to what he has offered in the performing arts, not only at QC but in The Bahamas.
“The shows he’s produced here [at QC] rival shows produced anywhere in the world. This year, the music…the singers…the cast, rivals any on Broadway, and their voices are amazing. Charzia is worth coming to see, especially as this is his swan song and he’s going out with a bang. You don’t have to go to New York to get a taste of Broadway, it’s Broadway at QC,” said Turnquest.
Run time for “The Wiz” is approximately two hours 30 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission. Student tickets are $15 and adult tickets are priced at $20. For tickets, contact the box office at 677-7616, or visit the box office located in the Queen’s College high school and primary school offices, or Carey’s Fabric and Uniform Store, Mackey Street, telephone 393-0758.