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August 1, 2014, 8:42 pm

Sharon Baptist’s ‘Wiz’ adaptation is journey of faith

Sharon Baptist Church will host the gospel adaptation of “The Wiz” titled “A Gate Called Straight” Jan. 11 and 12. The star-studded cast featuring BeBe Winans will be directed by Broadway alum Stephanie Mills.

The play was written by sisters Jorrae and Kelly L. Beard and narrates the story of a young woman named Grace. She is knocked unconscious and awakens in The Land of Grand. She encounters twists and turns that test her faith.

Kelly L. Beard, founder and CEO of Spirit of Praise Collaboration, explained the process behind the gospel production. She and her sister were inspired after sitting around at the table.

“We kind of realized that ‘The Wiz’ itself had a lot of spiritual elements to it that really could be transferred over into a spiritual type of play,” Beard said.

Beard also said that more wasn’t often done with this type of play and the sisters wanted to remedy that.

“The other thing was that often times that I don’t take away anything from what people have done in terms of gospel theatrics but one of the things that we don’t do a very good job is producing quality productions, something that’s comparable to a Broadway production,” she said.

“So, we really wanted to do something that would kind of raise the bar on how gospel theater is viewed and so in doing that, we brought on some of the best of the best.”

One of those marquee names includes Mills, who is making her directorial debut.

“It’s a wonderful feeling because I’m working with talented, talented people. There are wonderfully talented people here in Philadelphia. We have some newcomers that I think are just going to become some super-duper stars,” Mills said.

“I love being on the opposite side because I get to give back. I sat under some wonderful directors throughout my career. So, I take everything that I’ve learned and I give it to them.”

Three time Emmy winner Bill Jolly, known for his work as musical director of ‘The Wiz,’ was the music director for this adaptation. He composed 20 songs in two weeks.

“What made it even tougher is that I not only have to create it but I had to create it and teach the choir those 20 songs and then record the choir for the soundtrack album that we put together and get the band together. So, it was literally trying to do four or five jobs in the same amount of time,” Jolly said.

“I’m one of those people that is pretty focused. When I know something that has to get done, all I see is the finish line.”

Jolly felt that the music would add to the meaning of the play.

“When you have a show like this, when you have a play like this, the dialogue and the story is very important but it’s also very important to have something that’s humble and something that people can sing along with and take home with them and people love to hear great singers,” Jolly said.

“The music really allows people to get the full experience of what’s going on, not just the dialogue but really an appreciation of the great singers and the great vocalists and the messages that come sometimes that they can only get through the music.”

Eric. O. Shipman, a gospel artist and homegrown talent, has one of the starring roles as the lion.

“It’s pretty exciting because I’ve acted in other plays before this at different churches and different productions. So, I really like it,” Shipman said.

“I didn’t start pursuing it until later on and I knew that I had that kind of talent. I didn’t start to tap into it a little bit later on.”

Shipman shared what he hoped the audience would take from the play, which is approximately two hours and 15 minutes long.

“The message that I think they will get out of this is that no matter who you are in life, you can achieve anything that God has set out for you no matter what you have experienced in life, on matter what has happened in your life,” he said.

“No matter what anybody says about you … you are what God says you are and that through Jesus, you can do all things.”

Tickets are on sale starting at $40. For more information, visit www.spiritofpraisecollab.eventbrite.com.

 

Contact Tribune staff writer Stephanie Guerilus at (215) 893-5725 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .