Just in time for spring, Arkansas Repertory Theatre audiences are invited to “ease on down the road” with one of Broadway’s most popular musicals, “The Wiz”.
This musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s beloved classic, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, explodes onstage with Dorothy, her friends and her little dog too, in a vibrant fusion of ’70s rock and Motown melodies.
From a Broadway smash to a hit Hollywood movie, “The Wiz”, which opens Friday at 8 p.m., is a magical journey and beloved story of courage, brains, heart and home.
And coming home for his Rep debut will be Pine Bluff native Rickey Tripp, who will perform as a member of the ensemble.
Tripp was born at Pine Bluff and moved to Los Angeles around the age of 6, and was reared there until moving to New York.
While Tripp’s immediate family still lives in Los Angeles, he said his father and “a whole heap of aunts, uncles and cousins still live in Pine Bluff.
“I am excited,” Tripp said about performing in Little Rock. “I can’t always make it home, so this will be a great opportunity for my family to come and see me do something live,” he said.
Tripp said he originally auditioned for the role of Scarecrow but his friend, who is the choreographer, suggested he be part of the ensemble.
Tripp said he was always a natural dancer and though he grew up singing in the church, he was “not a lead singer.”
He said he didn’t really tap into all his talent until he was attending college, majoring in biological science with plans of becoming a pediatrician.
“I had a circle of friends and we just used to gig together,” he said. “My friend was taking a hip hop class and suggested I check it out.”
Tripp said enrolled in the hip hop class and, “I fell in love with the teacher and she fell in love with me. So the teacher wanted me to enroll in this Jazz 2 class the next semester. And I was like jazz. OK. I’ll try it,” he recalled.
“I went through a denial period. I loved science and math but I wasn’t passionate about it,” he said. “I felt I needed to be doing something artistic.”
Tripp said he then joined a jazz ensemble and “everything just felt right.” It was then that Tripp said he finally considered dance as a career.
And so came the task of having to tell his parents he wanted to major in dance and become a dancer — and not a pediatrician.
“My parents wondered what can you do with that and so I had to prove to them (that dancing could become a career),” he said.
And he did just that.
Tripp is a performer, choreographer, dance educator, and certified Zena Rommett Floor-Barre Technique instructor. He received a bachelor of arts degree in dance from San Jose State University. He has taught master classes and set choreography for various dance studios across the country including the prestigious New York University Theatre Department.
His Broadway credits include the Tony Award-winning show, “In the Heights”, which received the Drama Desk Award in 2007 for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. He was the associate choreographer for “The Broadway Boys” and assistant choreographer for “Fortress of Solitude A New Musical” and “Hip-Hop” with Seth Stewart. He also assisted choreography on “In the Heights”, “Desperately Seeking Susan”, “9-5 The Musical”, “The Wiz” Encore Presentation, and “Bring It On”.
As a teacher, he has more than 10 years of experience and is currently on staff at Broadway Dance Center in New York.
Tripp is also featured in NBC’s hit show “Smash”, which airs Mondays at 9 p.m.
Returning as director of “The Wiz” is Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, who most recently directed “A Raisin in the Sun” at The Rep. Also returning as costume designer is Rafael Colón Castanera, who most recently designed costumes at The Rep for “The 39 Steps” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”.
The idea for a musical based on “The Wizard of Oz” began with producer Ken Harper. The musical opened on Broadway on Jan. 5, 1975, with Stephanie Mills as Dorothy. “The Wiz” was one of the first all-black musicals to be a hit on Broadway. The stage version of “The Wiz” struck a chord with audiences starting in the 1970s and has continued through today.
The 1975 production won seven Tony Awards including “Best Musical.” “The Wiz” closed on Broadway on Jan. 28, 1979, after four years and 1,672 performances.
Motown Productions purchased the film rights to “The Wiz” in 1977 and the film version was released on the big screen in 1978. “The Wiz” had huge names in the cast including Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Richard Pryor as the Wizard and Lena Horne as Glinda the Good Witch, with Sidney Lumet as director.
“The Wiz” will run for four weeks with performances starting Friday and continuing through April 1. Performance days and times will be Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Advance tickets, which must be purchased before Friday, are on sale now for $25-$50, reflecting a discount of $10 off A Seating and $5 off B Seating. Advance ticket discounts cannot be combined with any other discount. Advance tickets may be purchased by calling the Box Office at 501-378-0405 or by buying online at https://tickets.therep.org.
Regular tickets go on sale Friday and range from$30-$60. Ticket pricing will vary by date, seat and performance. Military, senior, student and group discounts are available.
“Pay What You Can” tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. Wednesday and must be purchased in person at 601 Main Street at Little Rock. These tickets are based on seating availability.
Group tickets are on sale now at a discount and available for groups of 10 or more. Group tickets can be purchased by contacting Jeff Roper, Group Sales manager, at 501-378-0405.