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Photo Flash: Ashanti Stars in Encores! Summer Stars THE WIZ

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The Encores! Summer Stars production of The Wiz, starring Ashanti, LaChanze and Orlando Jones, will open on Thursday, June 18 at New York City Center. (Previews begin June 12). Easing down the road with Ashanti's Dorothy will be Joshua Henry, James Monroe Iglehart, Christian White, Tichina Arnold and Dawnn Lewis.

The Wiz, the 1974 rock and soul musical based on the beloved L. Frank Baum story about Dorothy and her adventures in Oz, will be directed by Thomas Kail and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, with music direction by Alex Lacamoire, (the team responsible for the Tony-winning In the Heights) sets by David Korins, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Ken Billington and sound by ACME Sound Partners.

The Wiz has a book by William F. Brown, music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and orchestrations by Harold Wheeler. The original production was directed by Geoffrey Holder and choreographed by George Faison. It won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Choreography.

In addition to Ashanti, Orlando Jones, Joshua Henry, James Monroe Iglehart, Christian White, Tichina Arnold, Dawnn Lewis and LaChanze, the cast includes Raymond Lamar Bennett, Tanya Birl, Darlesia Cearcy, Asmeret Ghebremichael, Angela Grovey, Ebony Haswell, Lauren Lim Jackson, Kevin-Anthony, Carl Lation, , Jennifer Locke, Amy McClendon, Kenna Michelle Morris, John Eric Parker, Herman Payne, Ryan Rankine, Levensky Smith, Ephraim Sykes, Adrienne Warren, Daniel J. Watts, Juson Williams and Will Wingfield.

Ashanti (Dorothy) burst onto the music scene with her 2002 self-titled debut album, Ashanti. The album landed at the #1 spot on both the Billboard Top 200 and R&B Album charts and won the Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album. Simultaneously, Ashanti also secured the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart and the R&B/Hip Hop Singles & Tracks chart with her song, "Foolish." She made Billboard history by having her first three chart entries land in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time, becoming the first woman to accomplish this feat (which was previously attained only by the Beatles). Her follow-up album, Chapter II, debuted in the # 1 slot on the Billboard Album Chart and spawned two Top-10 singles. Ashanti's other albums include Ashanti's Christmas; Concrete Rose; a remix album titled Collectibles by Ashanti and The Declaration.

Ashanti's film credits include Coach Carter, Resident Evil Extinction, John Tucker Must Die and Bride & Prejudice. Her television credits include "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz," "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," and "American Dreams," in which she portrayed Dionne Warwick. Her first book of poetry is titled Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love.

Orlando Jones (The Wiz) made his film debut in Barry Levinson's Liberty Heights. Other film credits include Biker Boyz, The Time Machine, Bedazzled, Say It Isn't So, Double Take, Magnolia, New Jersey Turnpikes and Primeval. His television credits include the role of Detective Cayman Bishop on the ABC drama "The Evidence," his own late night talk show on FX called "The Orlando Jones Show," and appearances on the "The Bernie Mac Show" and "Girlfriends." Jones co-created and provided voice-overs for the MTV2 animated series "The Adventures of Chico & Guapo," was an original cast member of the Fox comedy series, "MADtv" for two seasons, and was a writer for Fox's "Roc Live" and "Sinbad." He appeared in the Pasadena Playhouse production of August Wilson's Fences opposite Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett.

LaChanze (Glinda) recently appeared in Inked Baby at Playwrights Horizons, and received a Tony Award for her leading role in The Color Purple. She made her Broadway debut in Uptown...It's Hot!, directed by Maurice Hines and was next cast in the first international tour of Dreamgirls, which finished with a run on Broadway. Her other Broadway and off Broadway credits include Once on this Island, for which she received Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations and a Theatre World Award; Ragtime; the first Broadway revival of Company; the title role in Dessa Rose, (Drama Desk Award nomination and Obie Award); The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin; and The Vagina Monologues. LaChanze starred in the Encores! production of Out Of This World.

Joshua Henry (Tinman) is a member of Jaradoa Theater Company. His Broadway and off Broadway credits include In the Heights, for which he won a Drama Desk Award and Serenade. His film credits include Sex and the City.


James Monroe Iglehart (Lion) appeared on Broadway as Mitch in the 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee. He is a member of the hip hop improv group Freestyle Love Supreme.

Christian White (Scarecrow) performed the role of ‘Seaweed' in the national tour of Hairspray for two years.

Tichina Arnold (Evillene) currently plays Chris's Mom on the sitcom "Everybody Hates Chris." She made her film debut at the age of 15 in Little Shop of Horrors. Her films include How I Got into College and Scenes from a Mall. Arnold played Pamela James on Martin Lawrence's sitcom "Martin,"and appeared with Lawrence in the film Big Momma's House. She reunited with Lawrence in the film Wild Hogs. More recently, she played the title role in The Lena Baker Story, about the first woman to be executed by the electric chair in Georgia.
Dawnn Lewis (Addaperle) is perhaps best known for her roles on sitcoms such as "A Different World" and in the first season of "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper." She has appeared in numerous TV series sitcoms, and played Blabberwort the Troll in the miniseries "The 10th Kingdom." Her film credits include I'm Gonna Get You Sucka and Dreamgirls. In 2006, Lewis released her debut CD entitled Worth Waiting For. Her stage credits include "How to Succeed" with Matthew Broderick, The Street of the Sun and Can-Can.

The Wiz is an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, told from the African-American perspective. The original Broadway production of The Wiz opened at the Majestic Theatre on January 5, 1975, and moved to the Broadway Theater on May 25, 1977, running for over four years for a total of 1,672 performances.

Thomas Kail (Director) was nominated for Tony and Drama Desk Awards for his direction of In the Heights. Mr. Kail is artistic director and co-founder of Back House Productions (BHP), the resident theatre of New York City's The Drama Book Shop. BHP has developed many new works since its founding in 2001, including early versions of In the Heights and Anne Nelson's Savages. He also directs and co-created Freestyle Love Supreme, a hip-hop improv group that has performed in New York City, the Aspen Comedy and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals and the 2006 Melbourne Comedy Festival.

Andy Blankenbuehler (Choreographer) won the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for his choreography of In the Heights. He received a Tony Award nomination for Best Choreography for his work on the current Broadway production of 9 to 5, and his work has also been seen in the Broadway revival of The Apple Tree (starring Kristin Chenoweth) and the West End musical Desperately Seeking Susan. Mr. Blankenbuehler has staged concert work for Bette Midler, and he directed, choreographed and co-conceived the hit Caesars Palace production Nights on Broadway. Other recent work includes: A Little Princess (music by Andrew Lippa), Waiting for the Moon (music by Frank Wildhorn), Broadway by the Year: 1930, 1938 and 1978, and the City Center Encores! production of The Apple Tree.

Alex Lacamoire (Music Director) is the music director and Tony-winning orchestrator for In the Heights on Broadway. He also won a 2009 Grammy for producing the In the Heights cast album. Other credits as music director, arranger, and/or orchestrator: 9 to 5, Wicked, High Fidelity, Bat Boy: The Musical, the 2001 national tour of Godspell, Captain Louie, Working and Legally Blonde.

The Wiz is made possible, in part, by Roz and Jerry Meyer, Ruthe and Tony Ponturo and the Stephanie and Fred Shuman Fund for Encores!

Encores! Summer Stars, (Jack Viertel, Artistic Director) now in its third season, is an expanded version of City Center's acclaimed Encores! series. Summer Stars is dedicated to presenting Broadway classics in limited-run productions. The previous Encores! Summer Stars presentations were the critically-acclaimed productions of Gypsy starring Patti LuPone and Damn Yankees starring Sean Hayes and Jane Krakowski.

New York City Center (Arlene Shuler, President and CEO) has long been known and beloved by New York audiences not only as one of the City's preeminent performing arts institutions but also as an accessible and welcoming venue for dance and theater. New York City Center produces the Tony-honored Encores! musical theater series, and is home to some of the country's leading dance companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Paul Taylor Dance Company and Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, as well as Manhattan Theatre Club, one of New York's leading theater companies. In 2004 New York City Center launched the acclaimed Fall for Dance Festival, continuing to fulfill its mission to make the arts accessible to the broadest possible audience. In 2006, New York City Center formed partnerships with London's Sadler's Wells Theatre to facilitate the exchange of innovative dance works, and with Carnegie Hall to work together on exciting new programming initiatives between the two neighboring institutions.
The Wiz will run June 12 - July 5.Tickets range from $25 - $110 and are available at the New York City Center Box Office (West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues), through CityTix® at 212-581-1212, or online at www.nycitycenter.org.

THE WIZ PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: Monday and Tuesday evenings at 7:00 pm; Wednesday - Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm (note: Opening night, June 18 curtain is at 6:30pm; No performances on July 3 and 4); and Wednesday matinees at 2:00 pm. There will be Saturday matinees on June 20 and 27. Closing performance is on Sunday, July 5 at 7:00 pm.

Photo credit Robert J. Saferstein

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