Actors from tiny Manchester theatre step into TV spotlight

The cast of an all-black reworking of The Wizard of Oz at a 120-seat venue in Manchester will be put in the spotlight along with a host of West End stars.

Hope Mill Theatre’s The Wiz takes centre stage in an extravaganza filmed in front of 10,000 people that will be broadcast to millions on TV and radio.

It is among 15 musicals in The National Lottery’s Big Night of Musicals, on BBC One on Saturday and Radio 2 on Sunday.

The Wiz’s co-producer Ameena Hamid, 21, said it was “a huge thing for us”.

Aisha Jawando in Tina - The Tina Turner Musical at the Big Night of MusicalsIMAGE SOURCE,JEFF SPICER
Image caption,

Aisha Jawando in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical at the Big Night of Musicals

The other featured musicals are all West End and touring hits such as The Lion King, Les Misérables, Frozen, Back to the Future, Dear Evan Hansen and School of Rock.

Stars performing include Beverley Knight, Keala Settle, Samantha Barks and John Owen-Jones.

Hosted by Jason Manford, the Big Night of Musicals was filmed at Manchester’s AO Arena on Monday, with each cast performing a song or medley.

“To be put on a par with the huge West End and touring shows really meant a lot for us,” Hamid said.

“There was a beauty in doing it so intimately at Hope Mill – but there’s something really lovely about the opportunity to share that joy and for it to spill out onto this larger stage.

“We really managed to fill that space – and I hope people feel like they’re part of our Oz.”

The cast of The Wiz on stage at Manchester's AO ArenaIMAGE SOURCE,JOHN PHILLIPS
Image caption,

The cast of The Wiz went from a 120-seat venue to Manchester’s AO Arena

The Big Night of Musicals is designed to celebrate British theatre after the hardships of the past two years.

The event comes just weeks after theatres across the UK were having to cancel performances because of Covid outbreaks among their cast and crew. The Wiz alone had to call off 17 shows.

‘Really suffering’

The Big Night of Musicals “felt like a little bit of a triumph of theatre over Covid”, Hamid said.

“There was a point in December where not just this show but the industry as a whole was really suffering.

“With the new variant, it felt like we were just being knocked down continually and hadn’t really gotten back.

“Being able to get into this space with all of these shows, we were all able to have this moment of celebration of musical theatre and of all that we do as an industry.

“It was really lovely to have that following after everything that we’ve just been through.”

Jason Manford on stage at The Big Night of MusicalsIMAGE SOURCE,JEFF SPICER
Image caption,

Jason Manford opens the show at The Big Night of Musicals

The Wiz was first staged on Broadway in 1975, and made into a film starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson three years later.

This revival, the musical’s first new UK production for a decade, ran over Christmas at Hope Mill, which has gained a glowing reputation for its musicals in recent years.

The decision to stage a show with an all-black cast and a majority black crew had come after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Hamid said.

“The Wiz represented the opportunity to put black excellence and black joy at the centre and at the heart of a show, rather than focusing on pain.”

The Wiz’s run has ended but the show is being streamed on the Hope Mill website this weekend.

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