Wayne Brady and Nichelle Lewis on Striving for Excellence in ‘The Wiz’

WAYNE BRADY Jumping into a show like this was jumping into a game of double Dutch. My default Wayne will always be the 10-year-old Wayne, who is a loner, plays by himself, listens to musical theater and writes because he doesn’t fit in. So I tell myself, “Oh, I don’t know all these people, and they already like each other.” But these things are always all in our head. Then you go, “Come on now. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t supposed to be here, and this is your thing.” Now, this is my fourth Broadway show, so my job is to be here to support my cast.

“The Wiz” is known for its iconic performances, on the stage and screen. How did your predecessors influence your performance?

LEWIS When I got the call, the first thing I did was watch this YouTube recording of Stephanie Mills doing the show. Every time she sang, it was so soulful that I could feel it through the screen. Then I watched a few clips of Diana Ross. If you watch the video of her singing “Home,” it’s as if she’s talking directly to you. So I wanted to take the genuineness and make sure I put that into this Dorothy.

BRADY As a kid, I didn’t only focus on Richard Pryor [as The Wiz], I just loved the whole thing. Later, once I started performing, I said, “Well, if it ever comes around, I want to be the Tinman or the Scarecrow.” And one time, I was even hired to be the Tinman for Des McAnuff’s [2006] production at La Jolla Playhouse, but I ended up doing another TV show instead.

Given that it is a beloved classic, how did you ensure the uniqueness of this adaptation?

LEWIS My Dorothy is 15, and even though she does have her Aunt Em, she still doesn’t feel like she has someone there for her. It’s kind of a teenager thing. It is important for Dorothy to find all of these different people on her journey who are going through similar things and trying to be comfortable in their skin. My goal was to create this person who is growing, and be able to see that those changes are in her voice, within her body, and just her being.

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