"Wayne had several conflicts in his schedule early on that we were able to accommodate," explained director and La Jolla head Des McAnuff. "However, as we got further into the preparation of The Wiz, a previously agreed-to project of Wayne's was rescheduled, creating a conflict during The Wiz rehearsal period. It was, sadly, insurmountable. We were very enthusiastic about having him on the project, but we have to part ways."
Naylor — who moved up from the ensemble to play Seaweed in Hairspray on Broadway — has also appeared regionally as Sammy Davis, Jr. in Rat Pack Live! From Vegas, Cinderella and I Left My Heart.
The actor joins the cast which includes David Alan Grier (...Forum, Mambo Kings) as The Wiz, Nikki M. James (All Shook Up) as Dorothy, Titus Burgess (Jersey Boys) as the Lion, Michael Benjamin Washington (La Cage aux Folles) as the Tin Man, E. Faye Butler as the wicked witch Evillene, Orville Mendoza as Uncle Henry, Valarie Pettiford as Glinda and Aunt Em and Heather Lee as Addaperle.
"Our production will reflect the shifts that have occurred in the dominant pop culture, in both music and theatre, since The Wiz's history-making Broadway debut in the 1970s," explained McAnuff about the new take. "This is modern Oz, with a modern look and modern sounds. It is a privilege to working with such an esteemed company of actors as we head together into this great adventure. This promises to be an exciting ride for all of us!" McAnuff will work with Harold Wheeler, who orchestrated the original Broadway production of The Wiz, on giving this version a more contemporary sound. An environmental set by Robert Brill will also be part of the show's new concept, which includes a dancer (Albert Blaise) rather than a dog in the role of Dorothy's beloved Toto.
On board to create the new land of Oz are Brill (set), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Howell Binkley (lights), Peter Fitzgerald (sound) and Michael Clark (projections). Sergio Trujillo — who teamed with McAnuff on Jersey Boys — provides choreography.
The "re-imagining" of the Charlie Smalls (score)-William F. Brown (book) musical The Wiz is scheduled to begin previews Sept. 26 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre. With an official opening Oct. 8, the limited and possibly Broadway-bound production will run through Nov. 12.
David Alan Grier last appeared on Broadway in the lead role of Pseudolus in the revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. His Broadway debut came in the musical The First, as baseball great Jackie Robinson — which earned the actor a Tony nomination. He also played in the short-lived musical version of The Mambo Kings. The comedic actor is also known for his roles on television in "In Living Color," "Life With Bonnie" and in the films "The Woodsman," "15 Minutes," "Return to Me," "Jumanji," "Boomerang" and "Bewitched."
The Wiz opened at Broadway's Majestic Theatre Jan. 5, 1975, and later transferred to the Broadway Theatre. The musical closed Jan. 28, 1979, after playing 1,672 performances. The original cast included Hinton Battle as the Scarecrow, Tiger Haynes as the Tinman, Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, Ted Ross as the Lion, Dee Dee Bridgewater as Glinda, André De Shields as The Wiz, Mabel King as Evillene and Clarice Taylor as Addaperle. The Wiz won seven 1975 Tony Awards including Best Musical. A 1984 revival — also with Mills as Dorothy — managed only 13 performances at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Tickets to The Wiz at La Jolla Playhouse, on the corner of La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla, CA are currently on sale. For more information on the company, visit www.lajollaplayhouse.com.