Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Two-time Tony Nominee and Emmy Award Winner André De Shields Talks About “WOZ: A Rock Cabaret” and “CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P.” at Victory Gardens

André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

This summer, Chicago audiences will have a double dose of Broadway veteran André De Shields at Victory Gardens Theater.

The two-time Tony® nominee and Emmy Award winning actor considers Chicago his second artistic home, having appeared at the Bank of America Theatre last December, where he created the role of Ron in the Broadway bound musical Gotta Dance. 

Back in New York for a hot minute after completing his run as Cardinal Gremio, Curtis and Vincentio in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s all-male cast production of The Taming of the Shrew in Washington D.C., De Shields gave me the scoop on WOZ and CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P.

From Thursday, July 14 through Sunday, July 17, 2016, De Shields, who starred as the title character in the original 1975 Broadway production of The Wiz, is appearing in the return engagement of WOZ: A Rock Cabaret for five performances only. The press opening is Friday, July 15 at 7:30 pm.

Helmed by Scott Gryder, WOZ: A Rock Cabaret, created by Kimberly Lawson and Will Rogers, features music direction by Nick Sula.

Kevin Webb (from left) James Nedrud, Kimberly Lawson and Edward Fraim in “WOZ: A Rock Cabaret,” created by Kimberly Lawson and Will Rogers, with direction by Scott Gryder and music direction by Nick Sula. | Photo by Michael Courier

Kevin Webb (from left) James Nedrud, Kimberly Lawson and Edward Fraim in “WOZ: A Rock Cabaret,” created by Kimberly Lawson and Will Rogers, with direction by Scott Gryder and music direction by Nick Sula. | Photo by Michael Courier

De Shields joins original cast members Kimberly Lawson (Dorothy), Heather Currie (Wicked Witch), Clara D’Onofrio (Glinda), Edward Fraim (Lion), David Lipschutz Lipschutz (Munchkin, Winkie Soldier), James Nedrud (Tin Man), Kevin Webb (Scarecrow) and Sarah Wurz (Munckin, Winkie Soldier).

Inspired by the beloved film The Wizard of Oz, these Ozians in WOZ: A Rock Cabaret, will follow the yellow brick road to the tune of iconic rock anthems from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Robert Reddrick, Doug Peck, André De Shields, Tony Mhoon, Kimberly Lawson and Donica Lynn at the curtain call for CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P. in Victory Gardens' 2015 IGNITION Festival of New Plays in Chicago on July 16, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Robert Reddrick, Doug Peck, André De Shields, Tony Mhoon, Kimberly Lawson and Donica Lynn at the curtain call for CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P. in Victory Gardens’ 2015 IGNITION Festival of New Plays in Chicago on July 16, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

From Friday, August 26 through Sunday, August 28, Dennis Začek and Grippo Stage Co. are presenting CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P., written by and starring De Shields, with Začek and Samuel G. Roberson at the helm. The cast also features Kimberly Lawson, Donica Lynn, Tony Mhoon (Bassist), Robert Reddrick (Percussionist) and Doug Peck (piano and musical director).Tickets for CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P., priced at $25, are available here. The Victory Gardens Theater is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago.

Chang: What drew you to WOZ?
De Shields: Allow me to begin at the beginning. In 2014–as part of my Theatre Communications Group (TCG) Distinguished Achievement Grant–I was in Chicago, Illinois teaching a master class in self-actualization for actors at my host theatre, Victory Gardens. During that time, I made friends with the then box office manager, Kimberly Lawson. Eventually, Kimberly revealed to me her true calling, singing. She invited me to a performance of WOZ, a rock parody of The Wizard of Oz, in which she played Dorothy. Not only did I have a blast, but when Kimberly displayed her chops I was gob-smacked. Fast forward to 2016, and WOZ is back by popular demand. Okay, here’s where karma kicks in. The young man who initially portrayed the Wizard has a scheduling conflict, leaving him unavailable for the revival.  Kimberly asks me to step in temporarily. I hesitated until I was reminded that the Wizard gets to sing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and Guns and Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.” We’ll soon discover if the rest is destined to be history.

Actor André De Shields (C) w. cast in a scene fr. the Broadway musical "The Wiz". (c.1974) Photo by Martha Swope courtesy of THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY DIGITAL COLLECTIONS

Actor André De Shields (C) w. cast in a scene fr. the Broadway musical “The Wiz”. (c.1974) Photo by Martha Swope courtesy of THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY DIGITAL COLLECTIONS

Chang: You are the original Wiz.
De Shields: Yes. It was lost on neither Kimberly nor me, that having created the title role in the Broadway musical The Wiz, I was uniquely qualified to fill in.

Chang: What do these two shows have in common?
De Shields: Both productions audaciously exploit the abundant wealth of pathos and humor when Dorothy and her three friends are cast–forget nontraditionally–but rather spectacularly inclusively. When Dorothy can authentically be any girl in the universe, then one’s willful suspension of disbelief must embrace the farthest reaches of deep space, and all that lies therein. Of course, it also helps to have a score of iconic compositions borrowed from the field of rock & roll, pop, rhythm & blues, disco, metal and the American Song Book. Both Wizards are ordinary guys, who fancy themselves super heroes in an effort to compensate for some personal inadequacy. And finally, the gifts wished for by the four friends: brains, heart, courage and a way home are found to be achievable through self determinism.

André De Shields in CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P. in Victory Gardens' 2015 IGNITION Festival of New Plays in Chicago on July 16, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

André De Shields in CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P. in Victory Gardens’ 2015 IGNITION Festival of New Plays in Chicago on July 16, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Chang: In August, you’ll be back to perform at Victory Gardens. What can you tell us about your new show?
De Shields: Okay, more karma here. In 2015, I completed my TCG Residency. As part of that journey, I opened The Ignition Festival that year at Victory Gardens with an original piece titled CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P. I hired Kimberly Lawson as one of my two Black-Up Singers. The show was well received, and now P.I.M.P. is coming back by popular demand for three performances at Victory Gardens on August 26, 27 and 28.  P.I.M.P. is an urban fairy tale–told in spoken word, song and dance–about a boy named Jelly Belly who escapes the inner city, loses his belly and becomes a Smooth Operator. I’ve asked Kimberly back for a second round.

Kimberly Lawson and Donica Lynn in CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P. in Victory Gardens' 2015 IGNITION Festival of New Plays in Chicago on July 16, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Kimberly Lawson and Donica Lynn in CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P. in Victory Gardens’ 2015 IGNITION Festival of New Plays in Chicago on July 16, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

WOZ, July 14-17
Thursday, July 14 at 7:30 pm
Friday, July 15 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, July 16 2 pm & 7:30 pm
Sunday, July 17 at 2 pm

Tickets for WOZ: A Rock Cabaret, priced at $40, are currently available at www.victorygardens.org, by calling at (773) 871-3000 or in person at the Victory Gardens Theater box office. Students and senior discounts are available.
Patch.com: “WOZ: A Rock Cabaret” Featuring Guest Star Andre De Shields

CONFESSIONS of a P.I.M.P, August 26-28
Friday, August 26 at 6:00 pm
Saturday, August 27 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, August 28 at 7:30 pm

Tickets for CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P., priced at $25, are available here.

In a career spanning 47 years, André De Shields has distinguished himself as an unparalleled actor, director, choreographer and educator. He is the recipient of three Jeff Awards, the first as a Director for Victory Gardens 1987 production of The Colored Museum and the remaining two as Featured Performer in a Musical: Play On! (1998) and Mary Zimmerman’s The Jungle Book (2013), both at Goodman Theatre. In fact, De Shields’ professional career began at Chicago’s Shubert Theatre in the 1969 production of Hair. From there he moved on to The Me Nobody Knows at the Civic Opera House, and ultimately became a member of The Organic Theatre Company, where he created the role of Xander the Unconquerable, Ruler of the Sixth Dimension in the cult sensation Warp. His numerous accolades include an Emmy Award for the NBC Special based on Ain’t Misbehavin’the National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend Award, the Village Voice OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance, a 2015 Award for Excellence in Theatre from the Theatre School at DePaul University,  a 2016 Pioneer of the Arts Award For Outstanding Achievement In Television and Theatre from Riant Theatre, and two Doctor of Fine Arts degrees honoris causa one each from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the State University of New York-College at Buffalo. De Shields is best known for his show-stopping performances in four legendary Broadway musicals: The WizAin’t Misbehavin’Play On! and The Full Montywww.andredeshields.com

Multimedia: CONFESSIONS OF A P.I.M.P. Opening Night with André De Shields 

André De Shields and Mathilde Mukantabana, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States of America, “Celebrate Rwanda” at The SUNY Global Center 

Two-time Tony Nominee André De Shields and Ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana featured in Celebrate Rwanda! Event at The SUNY Global Center on June 29

STC’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Opening Night with André De Shields, Maulik Pancholy, Telly Leung, Oliver Thornton and More

Photos: Santino Fontana, André De Shields, John Larroquette, Nikki Renée Daniels, Bryce Pinkham, John Behlmann, Christiane Noll and More in New York City Center’s Encores! 1776 

Closing Night Party of Encores! 1776 with André De Shields, Santino Fontana, John Larroquette, Nikki Renée Daniels, Bryce Pinkham, Ann Harada at New York City Center 

Click here for more articles on André De Shields.

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang_photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang_photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and Playbill.com.

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