‘The Wiz’ brings magic to South Bend theater

Published 9:46 am Thursday, March 20, 2014

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SOUTH BEND—Despite juggling a blossoming career that keeps him travelling constantly between the East and West coasts, Chicago-based Chris Carter has enjoyed spending the last several months working with actors and crew at the South Bend Civic Theater.

Although his credits include a variety of roles including dancer, puppeteer and choreographer, SBCT’s production of “The Wiz,” which opens on March 28, has provided Carter with the opportunity to direct a show that he has loved since he was a youth.

“I have always loved ‘The Wiz,’” Carter said. “I fell in love with the movie first. Then, when I was in high school, they brought in a new teacher, and she wanted to do a production of ‘The Wiz.’ I told her, I will go out and find every character in the ensemble, and my cousin Michael and I went out and did just that. I choreographed it, and I got to be the Wiz, too.”

Although Chris had already been studying dance for many years, his experience with “The Wiz” opened up a whole new window on the theater for him.

“That was really my first experience with musical theater,” Carter said. “I thought, ‘This is awesome! I can tell a story when I dance. I can be goofy. I can do all the things you can’t do in ballet and hip hop.’ When I choreographed the tornado, I realized this was my calling.”

Chris’ deeply-felt connection to “The Wiz,” an adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz” that draws upon uniquely African-American cultural experiences, stems from his own experience growing up in Muskegon, Mich.

“I come from an urban community,” Carter said. “‘The Wiz’ gives us a chance to connect with what we know as members of an urban community.”

As the director of SBCT’s production, Carter is in a position to emphasize the aspects of the show that he feels are most important.

“The story sometimes loses its magic in some other productions,” Carter said. “I want to keep the magic, the love and the fun in the show. I keep that by adding trapdoors and laser light shows. I want to remind people of what they fell in love with when they were kids.”

Carter also wants to make sure that audience members are drawn into the story of “The Wiz” while emphasizing that, although there are similarities, “The Wiz” is not just a retelling of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I want to bring the audience into it more, not let it be so distant to them. I want everybody to leave the theater happy, calm and relaxed,” Carter said. “It’s important to keep the feeling of ‘The Wiz’ separate from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ It’s a feeling of jubilation, of rejoicing. That’s what’s important to me with this story in particular.”

His enthusiasm for the show has also affected the cast, which should translate into a very memorable experience for those in attendance.

“As a director, if you put enough into it, you can bring your passion into it. The cast can feel it,” Carter said. “I could not have asked for a better cast. I want to thank them for being there because I can’t do it alone.”

Once SBCT’s production of “The Wiz” wraps up, Carter will return to his busy schedule.

“I’m actually in a show in San Francisco, ‘Queenie Pie,’ Duke Ellington’s unfinished opera. I’m also going to San Francisco to do ‘Showboat’ at the San Francisco Opera in May,” Carter said. “I just recently did ‘Oklahoma’ at the Chicago Lyric Opera, and I was a dancer and singer. I’ll also be performing in some regional theater productions this fall.”

“The Wiz” performs in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St., from March 28 to April 13, 2014. Performance times are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $21 for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday shows and $18 for Wednesday and Thursday shows. To purchase tickets, call the SBCT Box Office at (574) 234-1112 or visit to www.sbct.org.

If the director’s excitement about the production is any indicator of how entertaining the show will be, then audience members will surely have a great time.

“I’m excited about it because everybody else is excited about it, too. I think it’ll be fun,” Carter said. “I love this show, and I want you to feel that!”