ISSUES, RESOURCES & LESSON PLANS
BELIEVE WHAT YOU SEE: THE POWER OF MUSIC AND SPECTACLE
The Emerald City in The Wiz Live! (2015)
ACTIVITY #1 MAGIC UP HIS SLEEVE: SPECTACLE IN THE WIZ
OBJECTIVEScope and Sequence:
SL.3, L.4.C, W.3.D, W.3.ATo examine the importance of “spectacle” in The Wiz; to explore the human desire for spectacle in entertainment.
DESCRIPTIONIn The Poetics, Greek philosopher Aristotle identifies six elements of drama central to good performance: plot, character, theme, diction (language or vernacular), music and spectacle. Although Aristotle deemed spectacle the least important element in drama, the visual elements or spectacle of a musical fantasy such as The Wiz are crucial in telling the story. In fact, many musicals rely on spectacle as a foundation of their attraction:
The Wiz was no less visually stunning when it opened on Broadway. Critic Douglas Watt from Newsweek reported:
- In Phantom of the Opera, the main character rows a boat through floating candles, and a chandelier crashes onto the stage.
- In The Lion King, puppetry recreates the landscape and wildlife of the African savannah, and a vision in the sky of Mufasa—the protagonist's dead father—suddenly becomes a flock of birds that fly away.
- In Miss Saigon, a helicopter actually lands on the stage!
Tom H. John's settings also have real wit: his Emerald City is a kind of utopian cocktail lounge, a cool green art-nouveau grotto studded with green-glowing stones, like traffic lights telling fantasy to Go! [Geoffrey] Holder has also designed sensational costumes: the tornado that whirls Dorothy from her Kansas home to Munchkin Land is whipped-up black-clad dancers led by a tall Tornado Queen whose plumed headdress gradually wraps the stage in an infinity of twisting wind. This and all of choreographer George Faison's dances are exciting, funny and jumping with character.The Wiz's blackness can be seen and felt in every aspect the musical. In addition to providing opportunities for people of color to lay claim to a story that they may have felt removed from, black culture makes an indelible mark through its visual spectacle and musical styling, the vernacular used in the lyrics and dialogue, and its costuming and choreography. The show knows its roots.
DEFINITIONSpectacle: something exhibited to view as unusual, notable, or entertaining, especially an eye-catching or dramatic public display. In theater (and as defined by Aristotle), spectacle includes all the visual aspects of a production, including costumes, make-up, scenery and special effects.
The Emerald City from The Wiz Live! (2015)
Watch the Emerald City sequence from The Wiz film (1978)
DISCUSSIONS/WRITING PROMPTScope and Sequence:
SL.1, SL.1.C, SL.3
- How does spectacle enhance an audience’s appreciation of a live performance? Imagine Lady Gaga’s half-time show at the Super Bowl without the lights, the costumes or the multitude of dancers. How would her performance have been rated if she had not dropped from the top of the stadium and been suspended in mid-air?
- There are some who say that with the rise of spectacle in theatre, the literary and other artistic qualities diminish. Why would this be? Is it true? Can the two co-exist? Write your own opinion in a short paragraph.
SHORT EXERCISE: ELEVATOR SPEECHScope and Sequence:
SL.4, SL.5, L.1, W.3, W.3.DEither in a group or individually, use any classic folk tale or children’s story to prepare a 5-minute “elevator speech” to pitch your idea to Hollywood or Broadway producers:Where will you set this film?Describe the world of the play. What design elements stand out?How will you costume the piece?What stars will you cast?What contemporary twist will YOU incorporate to make the piece more meaningful to a modern-day audience?To strengthen your pitch, include a board or digital presentation that includes images, music clips, location preferences, character names and descriptions as well as a basic plot outline.
ACTIVITY #2 A SUPERSOUL MUSICAL
Lena Horne in The Wiz (1978) Ne-Yo in The Wiz Live! (2015)
OBJECTIVETo discover how the creators of The Wiz used music to reflect race and popular culture, to analyze lyrics of songs for meaning, to explore how and why music affects us personally.
DESCRIPTIONIt is impossible to explore about The Wiz without acknowledging the power of its musical score, which combines a variety of genres: gospel, rhythm & blues, rock and soul are all used to equal effect. These musical styles were not represented on Broadway in the 1970s, much less before that time. Jeremy Aufderhelde wrote in his 2014 chronicle How the Wiz Was:“There was the question of ‘sound.’ Producer Ken [Harper] saw that the pop and Broadway sounds weren’t really in synch anymore. He thought that there was room for a bunch of different sounds on Broadway with the Motown sound playing alongside the warhorse songsters of old [like Rodgers & Hammerstein]… Interesting thought, huh?”
“It’s All Soul” is a two-hour long radio/podcast celebration and critique of the various aspects of black music that, historically, have been overlooked or ignored. This episode explores songs from both the original Broadway production and the film, with a score by Quincy Jones. Hosted by Vincent Williams & Daryl Debrest, and produced by G-Town Radio in Philadelphia.
EXAMINEWith your students, listen to the following songs and read the lyrics.1. “Ease on Down the Road” is one of the musical’s most popular songs and is used to propel the journey of Dorothy and her friends down the yellow brick road in search of their proposed savior, the Wiz. The repetitive musical structure and upbeat tempo of the song remind the characters – and the audience – to release the burdens of the past and keep on moving forward:Come on, ease on down, ease on down the roadCome on, ease on down, ease on down the roadDon't you carry nothingThat might be a loadCome on, ease on down, ease on down, down the roadIn her essay, Seeking a Home: The Wiz and the Black Arts Movement, Jennifer Giarrusso sees “Ease on Down the Road “ as a rallying cry. She states:The anthemic, uplifting tone reminiscent of a Negro Spiritual reminds us that the characters are not beat down by their hardship and the difficulty of the road ahead. Though the memory of that hardship might not be far, crucial to making it further down the road is realizing the positivity there. Though the repetition of the line “ease on down the road” recalls the repetition of blues music, the tone is definitively the opposite.2. Undoubtedly, the message of liberation and freedom is best encapsulated in the uplifting song "EverybodyRejoice/A Brand New Day." The joyous, upbeat rhythm sung by the full ensemble is rooted in gospel spirituals and is clearly designed to take the audience to church. It becomes an aspirational anthem of emancipation and hope for the future. The lyrics magnify the symbolic liberation of the Winkies from the Evilene, and encourages everybody to “Rejoice!”:Everybody wake upInto the morning into happinessHello worldIt's like a different way of living nowAnd thank you worldWe always knew that we'd be free somehowIn harmonyAnd show the world that we've got libertyIt's such a changeFor us to live so independentlyFreedom, you see, has got our hearts singing so joyfully
DISCUSSION/ WRITING PROMPTS
- How did your earliest exposure to music affect the kind of music you currently listen to? How much is your taste in music influenced by your family, siblings, friends, culture and environment? What type of judgments do you (or others) make based on the type of music people listen to?
- What is it about music and art that touches the soul?In what ways do music and art transcend language, cultural, economic and social barriers? In what ways can music serve as a catalyst for change?
- In what ways is our appreciation and understanding of various musical styles and rhythms reflective of our cultural background, social environment, race and gender?How have your musical tastes changed over the years? Explain.
ADDITIONAL REFERENCE“Meet The Man Behind Music for ‘The Wiz Live’ Soundtrack” by Jeff Johnson, NBC NewsIn advance of the release of the original cast recording for "The Wiz Live!," NBC interviewed Producer Harvey Mason Jr. to discuss how he and Music Director Stephen Oremus adapted the score of the 1970s musical and film into a contemporary hit.
GOING FURTHER: AGENTS OF CHANGEInvite your class to watch a video of Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth’s performance of the song “For Good” from the musical Wicked, another adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.Facilitate a discussion surround the idea of “change agents.” Who are the people in Dorothy’s life that change her perspective and illuminate parts of herself that had previously remained hidden? Who are the people who change our journey? What experiences and relationships shape of sense of self and our understanding of the world?In what ways do you act as an agent of change? Who or what most influences who we are and who we long to be? How do those influences change as we grow older?SONG LYRICS AND AUDIO: https://youtu.be/AvWfHIo5-kUPERFORMANCE VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fR4JotwwWo
ACTIVITY #3: EMOTIONAL SCULPTURESThe emotional spectrum displayed in The Wiz is broad in its scope. The following exercises will help your students get in touch with some of these feelings explored in the production and learn to express them visually using their bodies as sculpture.A. FIRST ACTIVITYThe first activity can serve as an ice-breaker. As the facilitator you need to push your students to be over the top and give them permission to be expressive. Have the class stand in a circle. Their objective is to "greet" everyone in the circle with a simple handshake and/or salutation. You will continue this process, but each new "greeting" will be colored by an extreme emotion.Incredible excitement -- you are on a major highHomesick – you are displaced, feeling unsure of yourself, missing your family and friendsFearful – you are terrified of everything and everyone, but try to hideCocky -- you own the streets, you have all the powerParanoid – everyone is watching you and people will know you are a fraudB. DISUCSSScope and Sequence:
SL.1, SL.1.CReturn to neutral and greet each without any emotion attached. How did the emotions shape your actions and or behavior?How did the class dynamic change with the various emotions?What emotions were easiest to tap into?What emotions felt the most 'real'? Why?What did it feel like to be on the receiving end of the various greetings? How did the group energy shape your actions and behavior? Did any single emotion/state of mind reflect a character trait or behavior that you witness on stage? Discuss.C. DEEPEN EXPERIENCEMove on to create group sculptures inspired by song lyrics and based on a few of the emotional themes of the play. This is a silent exercise. Have the group count off in threes. Each group will collectively shape a living sculpture using their bodies to reflect the following images/themes and ideas: They need to be encouraged to try to capture the essence of the feeling or idea. They should avoid literal representations.LONGING (“What Would I Do If I Could Feel”)What would I doIf I could look inside of meAnd know how it feelsTo say I like what I seeOPPRESSION (“No Bad News”)Don't nobody bring me no bad news'Cause I wake up already negativeAnd I've wired up my fuseSo don't nobody bring me no bad newsSALVATION/FREEDOM (“Brand New Day”)Everybody look around'Cause there's a reason to rejoice you seeEverybody come outAnd let's commence to singing joyfullyEverybody look upAnd feel the hope that we've been waiting forEverybody's gladBecause our silent fear and dread is goneFreedom, you see, has got our hearts singing so joyfullyLOVE/BELONGING (“Home”)When I think of homeI think of a place where there's love overflowingI wish I was homeI wish I was back there with the things I been knowingWind that makes the tall trees bend into leaningSuddenly the snowflakes that fall have a meaningSprinklin' the scene, makes it all clean
GROUP DISCUSSIONScope and Sequence:
Give each group adequate time to prepare (about five minutes) and without revealing the source, have each group 'present' their sculpture. Ask the remaining students to comment on what the 'see' and to name the sculpture. Talk about the process of creating as a group. Were you able to effectively communicate the theme or idea. What surprised you by your classmate’s interpretations?
THE WIZ Navigation
Home • A Message from Kimberly Sias • All City-Arts Education • Celebrating 18 Years: The All-City MusicalSome words about THE WIZ • THE WIZ Broadway Creative Team • Ya'll Got It: Star Turns in The Wiz • Character DescriptionsRepresentation in the American Musical • Fantasy and Adaptation in Literature • The Power and Spectacle • A Note to Students