Apparently audiences were unhappy with an allegedly subpar performance of “The Wiz” at the Brown Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky. An unusual number of customers called to call demand refunds, based on complaints ranging from botched lines to a bad Cowardly Lion costume (he looked like e bear) and to a cheesy projection of magical land of Oz from a laptop projector.
“The Wiz” is the hit Seventies Broadway adaptation of the “The Wizard of Oz,” but with an all-black cast, rock-style music, hip-hop dancing and contemporary slang. It was made into a successful film starring Diana Ross and Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.
Tickets cost between $35 to $65. Despite the complaints, Lavarious Slaughter, the show’s producer for Island Entertainment KC, of Kansas City, Missouri has said that there will be no refunds.
(Lavarious Slaughter? He sounds like an escapee from a Harry Potter book.)
It’s hard for me to tell just how bad the performance was based on second hand accounts. (I wouldn’t pay 65 bucks for the greatest production of “The Wiz” ever. The whole concept behind “The Wiz ” was cynical, and all-black casts are a divisive gimmick. How bad was it?
Helen Barnett was one malcontent who talked to the press. “It was terrible,” Barnett said. “Dorothy was wearing a Walmart dress. They forgot their dialogues … at one point Dorothy said she wanted to go back to Texas!” (In “The Wiz,” Dorothy is from Harlem while Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” is from Kansas.) Other complaint noted that the computer projected set kept being uninterrupted by pop-up dialogue boxes.
Yeah, that sounds pretty bad.
One of the actors, Kori Black, who played the role of the Good Witch of the North tried to explain, “The three o’clock show ended up being pretty much our dress rehearsal because we didn’t have enough time to do the show full-out at the venue before we performed it.”
I have mixed feelings about this, as a former professional theatrical producer and a long-time director and performer. There is no excuse for a badly rehearsed, done-on-the-cheap production that isn’t aimed at giving the audience genuine entertainment. On the other hand, one of the features of live theater that TV and movies lack is that nothing is guaranteed. Stuff goes wrong; things don’t work, actors botch line and entrances, costumes rip, props break, lights blow out. The show goes on. Going to the theater is the ultimate caveat emptor—“Let the buyer beware.” I’ve demanded refunds when projectors broke down in movie theaters, and I’ve given refunds or rain-checks to theater audiences when a performance couldn’t be completed. (Among the causes for those catastrophes: a power outage, a smoke machine that went crazy and blinded everyone, and a lead actor who got knocked cold on stage.) I’ve also had to open shows that were not as ready as I would have liked, but that is a common occurrence everywhere. You can’t give refunds for missed lines. Getting Dorothy’s home wrong is bad for sure, but if that ruins the show for someone, they weren’t going to like anything. One of the most popular and best reviewed productions I ever directed was Orson Welles’ adaptation of “Moby Dick.” One night, the actor playing Ishmael forgot the first line of the play, which is “Call me Ishmael”–one of the most famous opening lines in literature, and also the character’s own name. I got some flack, but the rest of the show recovered.
I fear that audiences are so unfamiliar with live theater that they expect movie-like special effects and the slick perfection that digitally created, multiple take filming provides. Live theater’s imperfections are part of what makes it dynamic and exciting. On the other hand, those pop-up dialogue boxes sound like the work of a production staff just trying to make a quick buck off the locals and then get out of town.
My policy would be that if a patron asked for a refund, I’d approve it. In 20 years, however, not one of our audience members demanded one.
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