The Black Theatre Troupe’s “The Wiz”


TED: JENNIFER ROBINSON WHO PORTRAYS THE WICKED WITCH, IN THE BLACK THEATER TROOPS PRODUCTION OF "THE WIZ” AND WE WILL SPEAK WITH JENNIFER ABOUT HER ROLE IN A MOMENT WE WELCOME THE TROOP'S EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR. DAVID HEMPHILL WELCOME BACK. IT'S GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN.

DAVID HEMPHILL: YOU TOO. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH.

TED: THAT'S GOOD STUFF TO WHAT WE JUST LISTEN TO THERE.

DAVID HEMPHILL: THANK YOU. IT NEVER FAILS. IF YOU TAKE CLASSICS LIKE THAT, AND GIVE THEM A NEW TWIST, ET CETERA, ALWAYS VERY EXCITING.

TED: FIRST TIME PUTTING ON "THE WIZ"? HAVE YOU EVER DONE IT BEFORE?

DAVID HEMPHILL: THIS IS THE FIRST TIME PUTTING IT ON -- WELL, WE DID A PRODUCTION IN THE LATE -- EARLY '80S BUT IT WAS JUST FOR OUR CHILDREN'S PRODUCTION. THIS IS OUR FIRST MAJOR PRODUCTION.

TED: FOR A MAJOR PRODUCTION LIKE THIS, AND PEOPLE KNOW IT IS OBVIOUSLY A TAKE ON "THE WIZARD OF OZ," BUT IT HAS BECOME A CLASSIC HERE. IT'S FAMILIAR. IS THERE A LITTLE PRESSURE PUTTING ON A FAMILIAR PRODUCTION LIKE THIS?

DAVID HEMPHILL: OH MY GOSH, YES. IT IS A LOT OF PRESSURE. YOU DON'T WANT ALIENATE NEW AUDIENCES AND YOU WANT TO SATISFY THE OLD AUDIENCES. TO GO SO FAR AWAY FROM THE CLASSIC --

YES: YES.

DAVID HEMPHILL: -- NATURE OF IT THAT YOU ALIENATE PEOPLE. BUT IT'S A FINE LINE.

TED: JENNIFER, WELCOME THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE.

JENNIFER ROBINSON: THANK YOU.

TED: VERY IMPRESSIVE.

JENNIFER ROBINSON: THANK YOU.

TED: DO YOU LOOK AT OTHER PEOPLE WHO PLAYED THIS PART AND TRY TO GET SOME POINTERS? OR DO YOU SAY, I DON'T WANT TO SEE IT. I DON'T WANT TO KNOW IT.

JENNIFER ROBINSON: I HAD TO LOOK AT OTHER CHARACTERS. I REMEMBER THE FIRST CHARACTER I WHO PLAYED EVILLENE WAS MABEL KING AND I LISTEND TO HER AND WATCHED HER ACTED IN THE WIZ AND IT WAS SUCH AN AMAZING PRODUCTION, SHE DID AN AWESOME JOB. AND THEN I FAST FORWARDED, I THINK THERE WAS A WIZ SHOW WITH MARY J. BLIGE AND THAT WAS THE LATEST EVILLENE AND I MEAN, SUBARB PERFORMANCE.

TED: SO ANY PRESSURE ON YOU?

JENNIFER ROBISON: A LOT OF PRESSURE. THESE ARE YOU KNOW, SUPER-STARS.

TED: EVEN THE WICKED WITCH HAS A LITTLE BIT OF PRESSURE.

JENNIFER ROBINSON: EXACTLY. I HAVE TO FILL A LOT OF SHOES.

TED: HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU FIRST NEW ABOUT "THE WIZ"?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: OH, MY GOODNESS. I HAD TO HAVE BEEN -- PROBABLY 15, 16, SOMEWHERE AROUND THERE.

TED: DID IT CAPTIVATE YOU? OH, MY GOD. DID IT, MICHAEL JACKSON? YOU KNOW, THE SCARECROW. CAPTIVATED ME VERY MUCH.

TED: YEAH I MEAN THIS WAS A BIG BREAK-THROUGH MUSICAL, "THE WIZ." ESPECIALLY WITH AN ALL-BLACK CAST. THIS IS STILL A BIG DEAL.

DAVID HEMPHILL: YEAH, IT IS.

TED: DOES THAT IMPORTANCE PLAY INTO EVERYTHING THAT YOU ARE DOING HERE?

DAVID HEMPHILL: IT DOES, IT REALLY DOES. IT FITS DIRECTLY INTO THE MISSION OF THE BLACK THEATRE TROUPE, WHICH IS TO DELIVER THE CANNON OF GREAT AMERICAN -- AFRICAN AMERICAN PRODUCTIONS, AND THAT -- THIS FITS RIGHT INTO THAT. IT'S VERY, VERY HUGE, AND IT HAS A WIDE RANGE OF PERFORMERS, AND IT GIVES US AN OPPORTUNITY TO EXPOSE VARIOUS LEVELS OF OUR PERFORMERS.

TED: JENNIFER YOU SAID YOU WERE FIRST AWARE OF "THE WIZ" 15 YEARS AGO OR SO. HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU KNEW I CAN SING? I’M PRETTY GOOD AT THIS.

JENNIFER ROBINSON: OH, PROBABLY AROUND THAT SAME TIME IN 6TH GRADE. I WAS REALLY SHY BUT IN 6TH GRADE I STARTED COMING OUT OF MY SHELL AND PERFORMING IN TALENT SHOWS.

TED: COMING OUT OF YOUR SHELL AND PERFORMING IN TALENT SHOWS, THAT'S A BIG STEP RIGHT THERE. WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS SAYING YOU GOT TO GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING WITH THIS?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: OH, YEAH, ABSOLUTELY. I FIRST STARTED SINGING IN MY HOME CHURCH BACK IN MICHIGAN.

TED: WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO ARIZONA?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: MY MOTHER. SHE MOVED OUT HERE FIRST, AND SHE SAID YOU HAVE TO CHECK IT OUT. SO I CAME OUT HERE, AND HAVE BEEN HERE FOR 17 YEARS.

TED: IS THIS YOUR CAREER? DO YOU DO OTHER THINGS?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: NO, THIS IS SOMETHING I DO ON THE SIDE. I WOULD LOVE TO MAKE IT A CAREER, OF COURSE. BUT I HAVE A FULL-TIME.

TED: YEAH I MEAN WE TALK TO A LOT OF THEATER PEOPLE HERE IN TOWN AND SO MANY PEOPLE IN THE ARTS HAVE OTHER THINGS GOING ON. MOST OF THE FOLKS IN THE BLACK THEATRE TROUPE, SAME SITUATION?

DAVID HEMPHILL: YES, WE HAVE ONE GENTLEMAN THAT PLAYS THE TINMAN, AND HE GOES AROUND THE COUNTRY PERFORMING IN PRODUCTIONS. SO IT'S A FULL-TIME JOB FOR HIM. ONE INTERESTING THING YOU ASK JENNIFER WHEN THE FIRST TIME SHE HEARD ABOUT “THE WIZ.” WAS THE FIRST TIME I HEARD OF "THE WIZARD OF OZ," WAS 6 OR 7 YEARS OLD.

TED: OH, YEAH. SAME WITH ME. I AM OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER, IT WAS SUNDAY NIGHT LIKE ON LABOR DAY OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT.

DAVID HEMPHILL: THAT’S RIGHT, YES.

TED: AND "THE WIZ" SAID WE CAN TAKE THIS AND DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT WITH IT.

DAVID HEMPHILL: SOMETHING DIFFERENT WITH IT, NEW STYLES OF MUSIC ALL THE MUSIC OF THE DAY AND IT'S A LITTLE KNOWN FACT THAT LUTHER VANDROSS HAS A SONG THAT THEY INSERTED INTO "THE WIZ," "BRAND NEW DAY," ONE OF HIS GREAT SONGS, THEY PUT IT IN "THE WIZ."

TED: WOW. THAT'S FANTASTIC. WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: OH MY GOODNESS, WHAT’S NEXT FOR ME IS "BLACK ME TIFFANY." STARTING NOVEMBER 30TH SO AS SOON AS WE FINISH THIS PRODUCTION, A COUPLE OF WEEKS LATER, WE PROBABLY HAVE TO GO INTO REHEARSAL.

TED: ALRIGHT, WELL IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE GOING TO BE A BUSY GUY… WELL, GOOD LUCK WITH "THE WIZ." WHERE CAN PEOPLE GET TICKETS AND ALL OF THAT?

DAVID HEMPHILL: WELL, WE'RE PERFORMING AT THE TEMPE CENTER FOR THE ARTS IN TEMPE. IT'S A PROJECT WE'RE DOING WITH TEMPE. WE’RE DOING TWO PRODUCTIONS THERE FOR THE SEASON SO YOU CAN FIND IT OUT ON OUR WEBSITE, OR TEMPE'S WEBSITE.

TED: DAVID HEMPHILL BLACK THEATER, JENNIFER ROBINSON GREAT JOB. THANK YOU FOR GRACING US WITH THAT. THAT WAS A LOT OF FUN.

JENNIFER ROBINSON: THANK YOU.

TED: THANK YOU TO BOTH OF YOU. THAT IS IT FOR NOW. AND THAT IS IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING. ♪

The Black Theatre Troupe’s production of “The Wiz” takes L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and infuses it with a mix of rock, gospel and soul music. We hear from the Troupe’s executive director, David Hemphill, and Jennifer Robinson, who portrays Evilene the Wicked Witch. She sings “No Bad News” on the show.

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Executive Director David Hemphill and Jennifer Robinson, who portrays Evilene the Wicked Witch.

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