Scarecrow: Barnum said there's a sucker born every minute.
Tinman: I was there when he said it, but I never thought I'd be one of them.
—The Wiz (1978)
This weekend was my annual pilgrimage to Long Island to see the play that Daughter has been working on. As usual, she wasn't on the stage. She did the two big signs that get posted outside for drivers to see and admire, and she works on lighting. Having said that, however, because she's a kid it's not like she gets a whole lot of say with regard to how that lighting should be done.
My perennial complaint about this particular local theater group is the de-emphasis on the kids. (Funny, I just noticed for the first time that the titles of both those posts, written a year apart, are the same. At least I've broken precedent.) Once again the teens and tweens who work on this thing are just so much cattle and are little more than an afterthought. At least we didn't have to deal with a Glamour Shot this year.
Last year (assuming you didn't read the link just now) the kids did Fiddler on the Roof. The kids tried hard but they just didn't carry it for me. At the time I wasn't sure if they were just one generation removed from the history that the story represented, or if they, being mostly Catholic kids, couldn't wrap their minds around the Jewish experience, or maybe there was another option. This year I was convinced that it was, in fact, Door Number Three.
This year, the play presented was The Wiz. Let me say that again a little differently. The play that was presented by a bunch of white Catholic Long Island suburbanites was The Wiz. This time they were clearly WAAAAY in over their heads.
I don't know whose idea this was (actually, I think I do), but this was a terrible idea. The play is written with a lot of 1970s black vernacular. When a 2000s white teenager says these things, either it's going to fall flat or it's going to be offensive. In this particular case, fortunately, the material fell flat. For ANY white acting company to stage this show, there's a very fine line to walk, here.
What's more, they didn't always "get" what the intention of their lines was. The Wiz himself was a good example of this. After he gets busted, he explains to Dorothy and Co. the story of preaching in a revival tent in Omaha when a storm blows him out to Oz. Got that? He's a preacher. So in the next scene, when he's trying to explain to the denizens of the Emerald City about how it's time for him to go, he's supposed to be using a preaching cadence, with appropriate intonations of pitch and timbre. Good preaching is practically music, and the voice is the instrument. Instead, this kid basically recited his lines. He didn't get that he's supposed to be slipping into Preacher Mode at this point.
I'll say this: the Scarecrow and Tin Man were pretty good. The Lion wasn't bad, although he got a lot of the vernacular lines I mentioned above (a lot of "y'all" and slangy lines) and this hampered his delivery. Dorothy? Was just awful. According to Daughter, hers was a casting based on nepotism. (No jealousy here, she's content not to be on stage.)
What's more, Daughter told me that the adults sensed that Dorothy wasn't doing well and sent her out for singing lessons on top of the rehearsals. I can't even imagine what she would have been like without the extra training. Another girl was bad enough that a decision was finally made to have a girl in the Pit Chorus sing her song while the girl onstage lip-synched. How humiliating for these two poor youngsters, to be put in that kind of position!
Even for a professional company, The Wiz is a much harder show than it looks, and having this group of kids put it on was just plain mean, in the long run. The adults who organized this should be ashamed. The parents, who tolerate this abuse without question, should also be ashamed.