When “The Wiz” hit movie theaters in 1978, it made waves as one of the most daring re-imaginings of a classic in history. Diana Ross as Dorothy? Michael Jackson as the Tin Man? Richard Pryor as the Wiz(ard)? Never before had a group of performers taken such a deeply entrenched storyline and turned it into something so new and refreshing.
This weekend, a group of 25 middle and high schoolers at Hoboken’s Hudson School and a director with an eclectic musical taste will attempt something similar. But this time, it’ll be less Motown and more progressive rock, as the school’s performance of “Oz” is based heavily on Pink Floyd’s earth-shattering 1973 album “The Dark Side of the Moon.”
“This is a big cast, and our school has a great interest in a lot of different types of music,” said Gabriel Hernandez, who is directing his first musical at the school, which runs from sixth grade through high school. “So ‘Oz’ sort of works because there’s lots of chorus groups and we can do a lot of different things with the music.”
“Oz” premiered on Friday night and will run through next Saturday, May 18 (see below for full details).
The Pink Floyd connection
According to Hernandez, there is a pop culture legend that if one mutes the original 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” and listens to “The Dark Side of the Moon,” the music lines up perfectly with the on-screen events. “The Dark Side of the Rainbow,” as it’s called, was the inspiration for much of the Hudson School’s production of “OZ.”
“We’re using about five or six songs from the album in the show,” said Hernandez. “And there’s a few other nods to it as well.”
If you look closely at the show’s set design, you’ll notice a handful of prism rainbows mixed in with more classic interpretations of the magical world of Oz. The prism rainbow is featured prominently on “Dark Side’s” album sleeve.
“It’s kind of hilarious to make middle schoolers try and rap.” - Gabriel Hernandez
“There’s less justification for the hip-hop than the Pink Floyd. It’s sort of just an exercise in randomness,” said Hernandez. “It’s kind of hilarious to make middle schoolers try and rap.”
Hype it up!
Hernandez’s energy and passion for musical theater is evident in the way he interacts with his students, often telling them to “hype it up.” They, in turn, respond.
“It’s tough, but it’s cool,” said Sophia Florida, a seventh grader who plays the Wicked Witch of the West. “I really have to go that extra mile and appear as crazy as possible. I want to seem like a really crazy person.”
Matthew McGowan, the ninth grader who plays Scarecrow, said adjusting to Hernandez’s energy levels was easy for him.
“I’m already kind of a random and crazy person, which fits in well with my part,” he said. “I watched the movie and sort of adopted that performance.”
McGowan also said that he worked hard with 11th grader Robert Stark, who plays the Tin Man, and Blake Faucher, the seventh grader who plays the Cowardly Lion, to form a gripping ensemble.
“It’s totally fun. Robert and I have a fun connection, we play off each other a lot,” said McGowan.
Faucher also said she watched the film in order to figure out how to best play the Lion.
“I noticed he’s got a lot of these little things he does that show that he’s scared. I try to play with my tail a lot,” she said.
Stark, the oldest member of the cast, said that he tries to be a role model for the younger students.
“I’ve been doing the shows since I was as young as they were,” he said. “I had my role models when I was young so I try to be one for them.”
According to Hernandez, Stark’s help doesn’t go unappreciated.
“It’s a big cast,” he said. “We’ve got 25 kids playing 40 roles, so it can get a little crazy.”
Performances of “Oz” are Sat., May 11 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Fri., May 17 at 8 p.m. and Sat., May 18 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Performances will be held at the Hudson School Performance Space, located at 601 Park Ave. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for students and seniors. For reservations, contact Gabriel Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com