Black Art and Wonderfulness: Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s The Wiz

Tyler Edwards (Class of 2022) is a biology major and a Baldwin Scholar from Apex, North Carolina. This semester, she is also producer for Hoof ‘n’ Horn, and is the leader behind the student musical theater group’s latest production: The Wiz. Written in 1975 by Charlie Smalls (music and lyrics) and William F. Brown (book), this Tony-Award winning musical tells the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum, 1900) in a contemporary African-American context. Read her interview to learn how Hoof ‘n’ Horn are presenting this  “black art and wonderfulness” on campus.

Tickets are all sold out! A limited number of individuals may be able to get in off the waitlist, which will begin outside Sheafer Theater one hour before each performance.

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All photos by Jared Lazarus.

Why do you believe it is so important to put forth this specific story at this time?

This is Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s first production with an all-black cast. It’s not the first time that we’ve done The Wiz—that was in the 2004–05 season.  I sat in on an interview with someone who was in that cast. At that time Hoof ‘n’ Horn were really excited that they were any non-white people in the production at all. I think now—with where we are as a club, as a university, and more importantly as people—we are committed to telling diverse stories and letting those come from diverse mouths. The Wiz is a really important way for us to do that.

“I think now—with where we are as a club, as a university, and more importantly as people—we are committed to telling diverse stories and letting those come from diverse mouths.”

Additionally, this is Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s first production to offer a sensory friendly performance. That means that our final performance (Feb 9, 2pm) will be modified a little bit. The sound and lighting cues will be lowered and dampened so that people with sensory disorders will be able to experience the show in a more comfortable environment.

What personally attracted you to working on this project?

This show is really important to me and to a lot of the other people involved with it. We grew up watching The Wiz with Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Nipsey Russell. A lot of people coming into this process didn’t even know that there was a Broadway version of the musical! In fact, the Broadway version is a little bit different than the movie itself, but it has most of the same songs and all of the same energy—all of the same black art and wonderfulness that most of us are familiar with. The Wiz is the first musical that I ever watched.

The original trailer for The Wiz (1978, directed by Sidney Lumet).

How would you describe student involvement so far?

Everyone that’s on my team is super, super talented. We’ve learned how to work together really well. It was extremely important for me that we had a black director, a black choreographer, a black music director, a black stage manager, and a black hair and makeup director—which we do. Once I got those positions solidified, it was much less stressful.

“I think what’s been special to me about doing The Wiz, or producing a musical at a university more generally, is that this is first and foremost an educational experience.”

We have people in the production with a wide range of experiences, and everyone worked together to figure things out. There are people who have musical theater experience and there are also people who have never done theater before—period. I think what’s been special to me about doing The Wiz, or producing a musical at a university more generally. This is first and foremost an educational experience. Being director is unlike any kind of experience that I’ve been able to get in a classroom, though there are theater production classes. Shout out to Theater Studies!

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What are you most excited for audiences to take away from this performance?

The biggest theme of the show is the idea of home and friendship and the whole idiom, “home is where the heart is,” right? I think that’s—not to be cheesy—but it’s kind of analogous to our experience here at Duke. We make and find chosen families here, far from home, and in an unfamiliar environment. Somehow we naturally find purpose and meaning with the other people who are around us. I think that is a really important message, and not just for little kids. It’s something that is applicable to everyone who has found meaning through friendship and survived hardships with the help of supportive people around them.

Coming Next from Hoof’n’Horn: Pippin

How can Duke students and the arts community support the show, and how can students get involved in the next production?

Come see the show! As for getting involved with Pippin, auditions are as soon as the show (Feb. 10–16). Sign ups for that are on our site and on our Facebook page. If you have any questions, email the producer of that show: Brennan Zook.

Kennedy Ware is a senior from Tampa, FL, studying Public Policy and Visual Media Studies. As a content creator on the Creative Arts Student Team, she aims to show the diversity in how the arts are experienced within the Duke community. She believes storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to connect people and foster a greater sense of empathy towards those with experiences that we may not be able to conceptualize otherwise. Following graduation, she aims to pursue a career in entertainment with a focus on directing and media production within the music industry.