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Why the Wiz?

The Significance of a Black Oz
Why the Wiz?
Nevaeh Brown ’25


Many popular films and plays feature white-centric casts, but at their core the themes and messages of these stories can be universal. Reimagining popular stories to include other cultures gives the people of those cultures a chance to be the hero. By recasting popular stories with characters of color, we unearth new nuances within those universal narratives that shed light on very real but underrepresented experiences.

The Muller Auditorium is buzzing with soul this fall as Abington Friends prepares for its 2023 musical production of William F. Brown’s The Wiz. The musical was written as an adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and specifically intended for an all-Black cast.

An essential difference between Baum’s Wizard of Oz and Brown’s The Wiz is that the former is told as a white story. At the same time, the latter reimagines the same fantastical world, one populated that prioritizes diversity

The show’s director, Kittson O’Neill, as well as its dramaturg, CJ Miller, were asked questions in an email interview about what it means to bring The Wiz to Abington Friends School. O’Neill said that in picking The Wiz, her choice was influenced by its lively and engaging atmosphere and its status as a classic.

O’Neill said, “The Wiz is a really important milestone in the American theater, so it seemed like a natural fit. It feels great to be doing such a joyful show and one that really centers Black American artistry.” 

The Wiz is a joyful celebration of Black storytelling that has the opportunity to exalt and honor the Black artists of our community. The adaptation of this musical is seen as an inspiration to strive for better in the future by uplifting Black voices in AFS and beyond.

O’Neill said, “The alienation and reclamation that are part of the world of Oz have been most profoundly felt and affected by African Americans. That is why my dramaturg, CJ Miller, and I, have leaned into a theme of Afro-futurism for this show, which just wouldn’t be possible in the traditional version of the script.”

As a dramaturg, Miller’s role in this production is to analyze the script and work closely with O’Neill, the director, developing and translating her vision to the audience.

Miller provided insight into the barriers preventing representation throughout stories and school environments. This makes the concept of a show that prioritizes diversity crucial because it makes a statement about addressing injustice that affects students at AFS.

Miller said, “The most important thing about this specific production of The Wiz is its focus on Black talent and how people of the global majority (Black and otherwise) quite often are displaced in our own homelands. The messages and themes of The Wizard of Oz are universal, but focusing the story around Black actors will heighten and highlight themes that often go overlooked.” 

While Abington Friends School strives towards a vision of diversity, equity, and understanding, Miller warns that this vision is not being fully realized. 

Miller said, “As long as I’ve been at AFS, I felt as if many of the non-white students are underserved and not seen or heard.”

Miller articulates his hope that through the production of this musical and its focus on Black talent, AFS can confront the racial inequity present in the community as this show represents the school’s commitment to an inclusive program. 

Miller said,  “I hope that this production invites every student of the global majority to know that theater is not just something that they can participate in, but that it is FOR THEM. I hope the actors feel lifted in ways that maybe they didn’t know was possible at AFS. I hope this production can spark the belief that all students of the global majority, but specifically those who are Black-identifying, can feel they can be whoever and whatever they want regardless of the societal norms they may be up against.”

Miller spoke further about the steps needed to make the theater program at Abington Friends School more affirming for students of color both in The Wiz and beyond. 

Miller said,  “Dear White People of AFS,  DIVERSIFY YOUR LIVES! If the majority of your friends are white and the books you read are all written by white people, and the shows you watch are by white creators and about white people; when are you taking the time to listen to Black voices? If you have that ‘one black friend’ or that one black author you read, are you sure you’re respecting them as a full person and not just tokenizing them? I hope that AFS as a community will one day cherish and uplift the voices and concerns of EVERY AFS STUDENT and not just cis-het white guys who have larger-than-average bank accounts.  If that were to happen, AFS could truly become the ‘no place like home’ community we strive to be.

With all of this kept in mind, don’t forget to have fun. Miller hopes “that the audience is moved to joy and revels in the excellent work of the performers on stage and the crew members who help make it possible.”  

The Wiz opens on Thursday, November 9, at 7pm. Performances will continue on November 10 at 7pm and November 11 at 2pm. An after-school preview performance will take place Wednesday, November 8, at 5pm. Tickets are available now.

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