From Baltimore to Broadway to Birmingham, Rufus Bonds Jr. brings an urban-spun version of The Wizard of Oz to Red Mountain Theatre Company.
The Wiz, a funk-infused folk tale, is about an introverted and phobic Dorothy who’s never travelled beyond the neighborhood of her New York City apartment. She finds that the very real world of Oz lives just beyond the block—an abstract inner city that’s literally alive. This updated and urbanized version of the classic Wizard of Oz story burst onto Broadway as an exciting new way to look at a beloved story.
Following tradition of the show’s first performance in 1975, The Wiz (which won seven Tony Awards) will feature an all-African-American cast to depict the show’s all-Birmingham lead roles: Abijah Cunningham as Dorothy, Russell Alexander as the Scarecrow, Kendall Johnson as the Tin Man, and Anthony Washington as the Lion—following the compositions from up-and-coming choreographer from Dominique Kelly.
In the lead role is Abijah Cunningham as Dorothy, who “is literally a stop-traffic, once-in-a-lifetime instrument,” according to RMTC Executive Director Keith Cromwell says. “I can’t wait to hear her blow this show out of the water. It’s all vocal gymnastics—basically, the whole show. It’s so powerful, number after number.”
The Lion, Anthony Washington, has been performing since the age of 6, starting in church. Growing up, he has performed with many bands playing the saxophone and singing with choral groups from Huffman High School to Alabama State University but his main passion has always been music and singing. His theatrical career has included such titles as Grease, Rent, Black Nativity, While The World Watched, and RMTC’s The Color Purple and Holidaze. He now has a career in finance working with Wells Fargo for over eight years.
Thrilled to be returning to the Red Mountain Theatre stage as the Tin Man, Kendall T. Johnson last appeared in RMTC’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Comfort Counselor). Kendall has appeared in many other RMTC productions including Five Guys Named Moe, Dreamgirls (C.C. White), Doo Wop, Ain’t Misbehavin, Annie (Rooster), and Smokey Joe’s Café to name a few. Kendall has also appeared in numerous other shows with The Magic City Actor’s Theatre and Virginia Samford Theatre including Pippin (The Leading Player), Sophisticated Ladies, Songs For A New World, and Aida (Mereb). Employed by Regions Bank, in his spare time Kendall enjoys reading, traveling, and exercising to include Zumba, jogging, weight training and Yoga.
Russell Alexander II, the Scarecrow, is thrilled to make his debut performance with Red Mountain Theatre Company in one of his favorite musicals! He is a Theatre Arts major with a concentration in Performance at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Russell’s recent work includes Avenue Q, Clyborne Park, & Urinetown with UAB Department of Theatre, and Robin Givens’ Joy in the Morning.
Choreographer Dominique Kelley, originally from Bridgeport, CT, has been named one of the most promising up and coming choreographers of his generation. An avid tapper and percussionist, Dominique tries to fuse rhythm patterns with classical movement to create a visual and aural experience. “Black and Blue” was his first Broadway tour at age 12, and ever since he has had a love of performing, choreographing, and movement coaching. He has literally done it all from Broadway shows like Hot Feet to movies like Disney’s The Princess and The Frog and Jump The Broom to television shows like The 2015 Critics Choice Awards to live performance collaborations with the biggest names in music like Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus to sports choreography with NFL and NBA teams.
Broadway director Bonds said when he was asked to direct the show he looked at The Wiz with a question of how it could apply to modern day Birmingham and what it would mean for the community.
“I look at Dorothy, and I look at her desire to be loved and to believe that she’s loved. I want to tell the story that love is always there, and it’s about you being able to accept it and recognize it on your journey, Bonds said. “That’s what it’s all about—the journey, and the gift of love, of home, and family.”
Rufus is blessed to be able to live his life behind the scenes, as well as on stage. Broadway credits include Rent, Once On This Island, and Parade. Mr. Bonds’ performance in Parade was honored with a Drama Desk nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and he won an Ovation Award recreating his role in Los Angeles. National tours include The Lion King and The Color Purple. The NAACP honored Rufus with a Best Actors Award for his performance in The Color Purple. Recently he performed at Carnegie Hall as the Baritone- Soloist for Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music. Last summer he performed in London the title role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theater. “God never fails.”
Watch on May 15 through May 31 at the Red Mountain Theatre Company’s Cabaret Theatre as Dorothy and her sidekicks soulfully sing and stomp through the journey of finding love among their eclectic community. As they ease on down the road, you will find the mixture of rock, gospel and soul combined with extraordinary choreography nothing short of dazzling.
Visit redmountaintheatre.org to purchase tickets to the show. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $30.
Get $5 off your ticket with a special code BMETRO1415 exclusive to B-Metro readers.