Young cast excited about major roles

Advocate staff photo by  April Buffington -- A' sjah Edwards plays Dorothy in The Wiz.
Advocate staff photo by April Buffington -- A' sjah Edwards plays Dorothy in The Wiz.

Dorothy is brave and spontaneous.

She’s also a little nervous, but that’s OK. A’sjah Edwards is, too.

Nervous, that is.

That’s not saying Edwards isn’t brave or spontaneous. You could say auditioning for The Wiz required a little bit of spontaneity, along with a lot of bravery. Edwards’ only previous acting experience has been in McKinley High Magnet School theatrical productions, along with a chorus member slot in New Venture Theatre’s May production, SHOUT!

Now she’s playing Dorothy in New Venture’s production of Charlie Smalls’ Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, The Wiz, which opens Thursday, July 18, at Independence Park Theatre.

The 15-year-old is stepping into her first leading role as Dorothy, who meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion while traveling the Yellow Brick Road to meet The Wizard of Oz. Or The Wiz, as he’s known in this musical, which debuted on Broadway in 1975 as a soul version of the 1939 film based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel.

The story is the same. Dorothy is transported to Munchkinland by a tornado and must find her way back home to Kansas.

Edwards’ friend Henry Harris is cast as the Tin Man. New Venture fans may remember him in smaller parts in the company’s productions of The Color Purple, Soulful Sounds of Christmas and SHOUT!.

The Wiz also marks Harris’ first major role in a theatrical production.

“Actually, I did not think I would get a major role when I auditioned,” Harris said. “I’m excited about it. It’s my first chance to be in a lead.”

“And I have to say I’m a little nervous,” Edwards added.

But she’s also excited, because she sees what’s happening in this show. It’s not a retro ’70s telling of The Wiz but something new and different.

“It’s more modern and up-to-date,” Edwards said.

The show is director Greg Williams Jr.’s vision, as is the actors’ development of the characters.

“He gave us a sheet of questions to answer about our characters, and we developed them from there,” Harris said. “The Tin Man is very confident, very self assured, but not conceited. He likes being able to look into a situation and seeing what he can do about it.”

The Tin Man’s joints are stiff when Dorothy meets him. Only oil can loosen him up, but even then his movements are limited.

“The movements are one of the hardest parts of playing my character, but I’m getting used to it,” Harris said.

Just as Edwards is becoming more confident in her role as Dorothy.

“I know I’d like to do other things for New Venture after this,” she said.

But first, she must take a trip down the Yellow Brick Road to meet The Wiz.