Tuesday, July 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

A funky Oz odyssey

You remember the advice. Follow the yellow brick road. You probably remember how to “ease on down the road,” too.

On May 21 audiences will experience a new, blended interpretation of the beloved classics “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Wiz.” Beginning at 7:30 p.m., Tacoma’s Pantages Theater will transform into the fantasyland known as “The Wiz: Cascadia.”

Featuring choreography by Nicholas Leichter Dance and score by Monstah Black with added musical selections, “The Wiz: Cascadia” is a new full-length modern dance musical. The New York-based dance company will perform only two West Coast showings – one in Tacoma – of “The Wiz: Cascadia.”

The show will bring big, theatrical dance and kinetic choreography with a new spin on the classic film “The Wizard of Oz” and the 1978 movie musical, “The Wiz.” The choreography pays homage to “The Wizard of Oz” and brings new interpretations of Quincy Jones songs from “The Wiz.”

Each major production of both stories examines ideas of hope, fantasy, dreams and home during times of major political and economic change. “The Wiz: Cascadia” celebrates urban sub-cultures by showcasing an array of different dance, performance and musical styles from hip-hop to funk, postmodern to drag and contemporary to psychedelic.

“What we’re creating is this wild fantasy world, but also showing the basic needs of humanity,” said Nicholas Leichter, the show’s artistic director. “These are timeless issues and the subject matter is things we are continually interested in.”

As choreographer/artistic director, Leichter has taught throughout the United States and at festivals in Africa, Asia, Canada, and Eastern and Western Europe, and he has been on faculty at Tisch School of the Arts and the American Dance Festival.

Founded in 1996, Nicholas Leichter Dance has performed in more than 50 cities in 17 states and 12 countries and has created more than 25 works. The company is sending about 13 dancers to perform in the Tacoma show this month.

David Fischer, executive director for Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, said the theater staff first heard about “The Wiz: Cascadia” two years ago, while visiting New York.

“I was impressed by the artistry and fusion of styles,” Fischer said. “It’s a bull’s eye in modern performance work. I loved it and thought it would be such a good show for Tacoma.”

In recent years, theater staff has aggressively sought out talent that would appeal to wider, more diverse audiences. In 2005, diverse programming made up about 12 percent of the theater’s shows. This year, that number has skyrocketed to more than 50 percent – a feat Fischer is proud of.

“Whenever we can find the right fit to do really diverse programs, we try to take it on,” he added.

Each variation of “The Wiz” boasts a different name and offers something unique to each city, Leichter said.

“We try to give everyone something a little special,” he said. “Because what makes this story so universal is that you can look inside yourself and always find home wherever it is.”

He added that the show is suitable for families, however there are some adult themes.

“For the most part, I think people can expect terrific singing, great musicians and a wild creative fantasy,” Leichter said. “They can also expect killer, killer dancing.”

“The Wiz: Cascadia” tickets are on sale now for $29, $39, $49 and $59. Tickets may be purchased through the Broadway Center Box Office at (253) 591-5894, in person at 901 Broadway in Tacoma or online at