These Stars Are Bringing a New Look to Broadway

With the 77th Tony Awards nominations just over a week away, Broadway is blooming this April. There are riveting revivals now in production like The Wiz, which boasts former Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kandi Burruss as one of its producers. Several best-selling books have been reimagined for the stage and updated with diverse casts that make these novels an inclusive experience for all.

EBONY eases on down the Broadway road to speak with four stars shining bright on their stages. Learn more about their roles and how they bring a new look and feel to these classic characters.

Avery Wilson, The Wiz

Avery Wilson as Scarecrow in "You Can't Win." Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Avery Wilson in The Wiz. Image: Jeremy Daniel.

From NBC’s The Voice to the musical stage, Wilson embodies the Scarecrow in Broadway’s first revival of the beloved musical in 40 years.

Playing a genius: I play the iconic role of Scarecrow in The Wiz! I have a backstory in this adaptation— but no spoilers; come see the show! What I love most about living in this role is that I remember a time in my personal life when I was allowing the environment around me to determine how and who I should be, even though I had different thoughts about myself I strongly believed. This really mirrors the life of the Scarecrow so there’s a deep connection there. 

Taking on an iconic role: I think the common thread between all of the amazing men who have stepped foot into the role of The Scarecrow is their exceptional ability to dance! I pay homage to [original Broadway cast member] Hinton Battle in my dancing; I bring to the stage technique from Michael Jackson (who starred in the movie adaptation) and use some of his famous moves throughout the show. Surprisingly to many, Elijah Kelley (who starred in the NBC remake) and I both tumble onstage! 

Two show-stopping moments: My scarecrow, in true fashion, is a bit featherbrained, but he’s confident! I’ve also brought some of my comedic side to him. He’s funny, lovable, dippy and confident, and dressed in denim and hay. You absolutely don’t want to miss “You Can’t Win” and “I Know We’re Gunna Make It.” 

The Wiz is now playing at the Marquis Theatre in New York City.

Joy Woods, The Notebook

Bringing the book to life on stage, Woods plays “Middle Allie,” Noah’s true love, whom she reconnects with after a ten-year absence. The show engages in colorblind casting, as the three versions of Allie are from different ethnic backgrounds. 

A woman in love: After living a comfortable life and having her choices influenced by the people around her, Allie decides to follow her heart (cheesy but universal) and inquire about a life she feels was taken away from her. That’s a scary thing to do, risk changing your life for a dream that not many around you believe in. It’s a courage that I’m honored to relive every night and be reminded that I have power over my choices and life. 

The show’s unexpected casting: I didn’t realize the color-conscious casting would make such waves until I heard some criticisms. Maybe because I’m a diehard theater girl, but the surrender to suspending disbelief in a story that is so universal was immediate. Finding love, the idea of the right person/wrong time, autonomy over life decisions and commitment to the ones you love are all subjects everyone can relate to. I think a theatrical medium is the perfect place to show that. 

Her favorite on-stage moment: Everyone loves the rain, so I can’t go without mentioning it. Getting drenched onstage is such a sobering experience. I get to look one of my best friends in the eye every night (at least when we’re not blinking through water) and surrender to our little moment in time. It’s very sweet. My favorite moment, though, is the scene and song leading up to the rain. It feels like the crux of humanity—trying to reconnect, the awkwardness of it all, the uncomfortable moments, the unspoken apologies and attempts to move forward and repair. The sheer hilarity of it. It’s wonderful to navigate that every night and feel the audience listening.

The Notebook: The Musical is now playing at the Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City.

Christina Sajous, Tommy

Christina Sajous in Tommy
Christina Sajous in The Who’s Tommy. Image: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

Sajous brings “The Acid Queen” to vivid life in the Broadway revival of The Who’s TOMMY, a role the late, great Tina Turner played in the Oscar-nominated 1977 film.

Searching for a cure: The show is about a young boy stricken by trauma after witnessing a murder that ultimately makes him “deaf, dumb and blind.” His parents search for a cure from various doctors and the church, and despite their great efforts to free him of his internal isolation they meet a Gypsy who is a self-proclaimed “Acid Queen” who guarantees to save him with drugs and sex. Although the role represents our story’s dark and dangerous side, I think the Acid Queen’s relevance represents humanity’s dark and dangerous side. My favorite part about playing her is giving the audience insight into the desperation of survival and how we are willing to do possibly anything to feel “free.” In her mind, drugs make her free, but in reality, like Tommy, she is also “deaf, dumb, and blind,” stuck inside of her own isolating trauma controlled by narcotics.

I, Tina: It is a blessing to stand in the same footprint as the legend Tina Turner. I pay homage to Ms. Turner and Cheryl Freeman (Broadway’s Original Acid Queen in 1993), who laid the foundational blueprint of this role, and every night, I am reminded of the hard work it took to build it. It requires your full vocal facility and athleticism, mental strength and physical agility, and knowing they, too, had to experience similar challenges makes me handle it with more care and respect. It’s a great opportunity to make it my own because I get to access the lens of my own personal experiences in life and use that vocabulary to help build the authenticity of an Acid Queen for a modern-day audience. 

Highest moment: The musical number “Acid Queen” showcases the very bottom of my voice to the very top of my vocal register while incorporating dance moves with high kicks and backbends. However, these are all tactics to showcase her eccentricity and her desperate demands to get money. After all her efforts, the real payoff happens at the end of the number, when she finally gets paid to afford her next hit of drugs. She is then metaphorically and physically “lifted” off stage into a different mental dimension. 

The Who’s Tommy on Broadway is now playing at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City.

Noah J. Ricketts, The Great Gatsby

Noah J. Ricketts stars in The Great Gatsby. Image: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

Ricketts steps into the shoes of Nick Carraway, the young man who is intrigued and mesmerized by millionaire Jay Gatsby’s mysterious life and impossible love story.

Revisiting his past: Like many students, I was required to read The Great Gatsby in high school. I remember thinking that the story was interesting, but I didn’t feel much of a connection to the characters. Revisiting it over a decade later, everything’s changed. Like my character Nick, I moved to New York with very little money and some very big dreams. I’ve experienced the highs and lows that come with pursuing an acting career in a world riddled with nepotism and class division. Performing this show each night has allowed me to ask the important question: “How do we remain hopeful in such a complicated world?”

A reserved performance: What I love most about Nick’s character is his ability to “reserve judgment.” Nick interacts with every character on that stage, and his openness allows others to share their stories. I think it’s such a beautiful quality. It’s something I try to carry into my real life. 

A score to die for: My favorite part about bringing this story to the musical stage is singing this incredible score each night. This novel is epic, and all the characters jump off the page. Turning it into a musical takes it to an entirely new level. You don’t have to imagine Nick’s excitement when he arrives in New York City; you get to see and hear it. This music takes you on an emotional journey that heightens Fitzgerald’s text. Bringing this great American novel to the great American stage feels, well, great! I think audiences are in for a real treat. 

The Great Gatsby is now playing at the Broadway Theatre in New York City.

Updated: April 19, 2024 — 12:03 pm