Local production of 'The Wiz' inspired by RACE exhibit

05:46 PM, Jun 24, 2013

(Neeti Upadhye/Staff photographer)/


Written By Neeti Upadhye | Staff writer

If you go

What: OFC CreationsÂ’ The Wiz.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Rochester Museum & Science CenterÂ’s Eisenhart Auditorium, 657 East Ave.
Cost: $20 at the door.
For tickets:
ofccreations.com.

Toto is not in Kansas anymore — he has ended up in downtown Rochester.

OFC Creations, a community production company, is putting a real-world twist on the urban musical production The Wiz
, playing Friday and Saturday at Rochester Museum & Science Center’s Eisenhart Auditorium.

Special series: Unite Rochester

Director and producer Eric Johnson, 19, of Pittsford, says there are a few other twists as well: The scarecrow is an unsuccessful businessman, the tin man is a car mechanic and the wizard represents a mix of political and religious figures.

But the real social commentary, he says, is The Wiz’s interracial cast.

Johnson says he was inspired by the “RACE: Are We So Different?” traveling exhibit that was at RMSC and explored the issue of race from a biological, cultural and historical perspective. Community groups held several forums and other programs this spring in conjunction with the exhibit.

Johnson’s production breaks traditional typecasting by including Puerto Ricans, African-Americans and Caucasians.

I wanted to showcase the many different ethnicities in Rochester,” he says.

Johnson created a diverse cast through recommendations and reaching out to people he had worked with in the past — actors from Pittsford, Rochester, Irondequoit, Webster and Greece are in the show.

The Wiz is primarily a dance show with more jazz and soul music than the original production of The Wizard of Oz. The group has met almost every day for more than two months to prepare for their performance.

Yvana Melendez, 21, plays Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West. She says she was touched by how the cast members helped each other to grow despite not having met before rehearsals began.

The atmosphere itself is like a family,” she says.

At one of their rehearsals, the dancers gave each other tips to improve their synchronization, while Melendez helped cast members find makeup that matched their various skin tones.

Johnson is donating all the show’s proceeds to Facing Race Embracing Equity (FR=EE), an initiative for raising awareness and finding solutions to racial issues. Frederick Jefferson, project coordinator for FR=EE, says he was delighted with Johnson’s idea of using the arts to talk about race.

Art is a universal language,” Jefferson says. “Not only are they presenting a play, but an image of what is possible in society.”

He also encourages people to recognize that youth have a powerful voice in the conversation on race.

Something needs to be continued in Rochester, so hopefully this won’t be the last project of this nature,” says Johnson, who graduated from Pittford Mendon High School a year ago.

Melendez wants the cast’s deeper message to resonate with the audience even after its final bow.

I hope they walk away with the fact that they can be understood,” she said. “No matter what race you are, or your background, your past lives, your heritage, or anything like that, you can’t be judged.”