George Faison, internationally celebrated producer, writer, composer, director, choreographer and dancer, made history in 1975 when he became the first African American to win a Tony Award for Best Choreography for The Wiz. Faison also heads the Faison Firehouse Theater in Central Harlem, which he founded in 2000 along with Tad Schnugg.
In honor of the Broadway hit’s 40th anniversary this year, Faison will present performances of original songs and dances from the show at Central Park’s SummerStage on Wednesday, August 12. The evening will feature co-host/emcee Phylicia Rashad; André De Shields (reprising his role as The Wiz); Tony Award-Winner for the role of Glinda, Dee Dee Bridgewater; Ebony Jo-Ann in the role of Addaperle; singer/songwriter Wallace Gary as The Scarecrow; and Inaya Day as Dorothy, plus many more.
The Broadway Blog had a chance to talk with Faison about his time in the theater and the impact of The Wiz on today’s generation.
How did this project come to fruition?
I’ve been collaborating with Summer Stage for the last two years. Last summer we were trying to come up with something to do and the 40th anniversary of The Wiz seemed like the perfect celebration.
Why do you think the show still resonates with audiences?
It was 1939 when Judy Garland starred in the original The Wizard of Oz. We were a country at war then, as well as 1975, and in a lot of ways we’re at war now. We were all trying to achieve a fantasy—even if we were black. But that vernacular was just an overlay. Everybody wants to be Dorothy. It is a show filled with passion and compassion.
The brain, the heart, and the most important virtue—courage —are the embodiment of The Wiz.
Was there resistance to reinterpreting such an American classic?
Yes, some! But we asked ourselves, ‘Why not experience this literature and this timeless story and coming of age?’ We need to click our heels and accept our culture, recognizing the contributions of all people and get over that separateness. It’s time to take ownership.
How would you describe your Tony Award-winning choreography for The Wiz?
It was everything: modern, ballet, jazz, and popular dances of the time. You have to understand, we were creating all of these lands through movement. I could use all of it, mix it up, and reinvent. It wasn’t just “black dance”—that’s ludicrous.
One could say that Broadway’s Hamilton, the record-breaking, multi-cultural hit of the season, is part of The Wiz’s legacy. Thoughts?
Broadway is it! We’re reclaiming ownership of the art form. It’s our responsibility to do that. We’re teaching a whole new generation and finally celebrating culture on all levels.
For more details on the August 12 performance, click here.