Seeing is believing The Wiz with Sam
We’re in the lobby.
The show is going to begin in fifteen minutes.
A man approaches Sam, and says in a very loud and theatrical voice; “Hello little man. What’s your name?”
This man looks familiar.
I realize that he looks familiar because I am looking at his picture on the bulletin board featuring the cast in front of me. Lion, in plain clothes, is talking to Sam. They are the only two people with brown skin in the room. His presence is loving, protective and alluring. Within minutes we have been invited back stage after the show. Sam has this effect on people. He always has. When you are in Brunswick, Maine about to see The Wiz and you are a six-year-old Black boy, you’re chances of being the only kid who looks like you in the entire theater are pretty high. In this instance, that became a blessing that may have outweighed temporarily the curse of it. Having Lion take to Sam in his larger than life way, offset for me anyway, all the other people staring at him, and smiling.
I can be a bit of a theater snob--because I have seen a ton of great theater. I was “theatrically” raised in the aisles of Arena Stage in Washington–in my teen years–because my father was on the board there-and my ten years in New York City gathered me up boxes of playbills. And this production was just incredible. The set skirted that perfect balance of function and fantasy. The special effects were sparingly used (insert raging twister on back screen here) and captivating. The orchestra pit was packed with pizzazz. (Sam would tell me every time he heard the electric or bass guitar.) From the moment the radiant Dorothy, and real live Toto raced across the stage I knew we were in for some five-star entertainment. The the singing began. Boisterous and beautiful the two women’s voices belted out their first number. As the twister dancers powerfully transformed the stage from here to there, the audience was easily launched on a high intensity adventure that never let down.
Of course Sam was eager for Lion to make his entrance. He leaped on stage and into our hearts in seconds. He had such a dynamic and gentle way. His friendship with Dorothy grew in such a believable way. I wanted in on their hugs! OK, I was a little partial to the Tin Man’s suave and sassy return to life with his oiled up swagger. The Scarecrow’s on stage presence was more than enough to send any self respecting, and well dressed crow to further fields. Hip hopping flying monkeys, seductive poppies and blazing yellow Zoot suited yellow brick road ensemble members danced and sang with captivating force supporting this truly memorable adaptation of the Wizard of Oz around the already magnificent core cast.
And yet at some point I became so uncomfortable. There were at my count three African American people in the audience. There were twenty plus moving across the stage. I tried to imagine an audience of Black people in a predominantly Black community coming specifically to see a theatrical celebration of White culture adapted from an iconic Black cultural history story on stage. Then I realized, that is not the world we know today. And I got back to being enchanted and grateful that Sam was on my lap, on the edge of his world completely mesmerized. So incredibly thankful that although he was in the minority in the audience–every single person in the spotlight at that moment looked just like him. For now, that was more than enough.
After the show, as promised Lion met us at the stage door in full King of the Jungle regalia with open arms. Not only did Sam get to come face to face with the radiant and wicked Evilene (sans her two foot gravity defying do) but he met almost every doting member of the cast and many crew. Dancers fawned, the stage director generously engaged, and Scarecrow and Tin Man came up specifically to meet Lion’s new best little buddy. Sam was nonplussed. Sam seriously has come to believe that this is how the world rolls. You show up, and people adore you. Sam’s take on the night; “It was good. I was the only brown kid there. I want to see him and all of the other characters again. Can they come over for lunch before they go home?”