Written by | Ray Cornelius
As we prepare to watch NBC’s The Wiz Live tonight at 8 p.m., I can’t help but be reminded of my own “yellow brick road” journey.
I got a chance to play the “Scarecrow” in an Atlanta production of the Broadway musical back in 2003. It was my first professional theater experience and couldn’t have happened at a better time in my life. I was going through a quarter-life crisis (yes that really does exist) and was really uncertain about the direction I wanted to go in my career. Starring in the show was really an act of faith for me and pushed me beyond my comfort zones. I wasn’t a strong vocalist and I was nobody’s dancer. However, I knew that character! I was all too familiar with his flaws and knew what it was like to renew the mind. I also had to believe in my abilities and realize (without a shadow of a doubt) that everything I needed to make this work was already inside of me.
(My “WIZ” cast photo…that’s me underneath that straw to the right)
Interestingly enough, three of my other cast mates—Ken Robinson, Naima Carter Russell and Bree Shannon—were also going through similar tests of faith. Ken, who was portraying the “Lion,” was struggling with the idea of leaving his 9 to 5 to pursue acting full-time and so was “Dorothy” Naima and “Adapperle” Bree. Was this a coincidence? I don’t think so. Clearly we were in these roles for more than just a production.
After the show, Ken quit his job to attend Yale’s MFA Program for Drama and is now on Broadway in the revival of The Color Purple with Jennifer Hudson. Bree also left her corporate job and has traveled the world as a performer on cruise ships. Naima also went on to star in a number of regional theater productions and most recently received a Suzi Bass Award (Atlanta’s Tony Award) for her role in an Atlanta production of Memphis. Yes!!! Dreams really do come true.
In addition to starring in the show, I also got an opportunity to meet Hinton Battle, the original actor who starred as the “Scarecrow” on Broadway with Stephanie Mills. He was just a warm and exciting as I thought he would be and was so tickled by my love for his character and the story.
In closing, let tonight’s airing of The Wiz Live! serve as a reminder that we never have to look outside of ourselves and abilities to be great. Each one of us has been gifted by God to do extraordinary things with our unique talents and gifts. All it takes is a little wisdom, some courage, a big heart and lots of faith.
Meeting Hinton Battle in 2012
Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com