NEW YORK – A 24-year-old triple threat who toured in “Hairspray,” competed on “American Idol” and came to the attention of casting agents with her TikTok videos has landed the plum role of Dorothy in the Broadway-bound production of “The Wiz.”
Nichelle Lewis will star in the national touring show this fall and then make her Broadway debut next year as the show's heel-clicking heroine, following in the footsteps of such icons as Stephanie Mills and Diana Ross.
"It’s been a pretty crazy journey," she told The Associated Press before her official unveiling Monday. “I’m honored to be making my debut as Dorothy. I know I’m following in some really big footsteps.”
“The Wiz” tours the U.S. starting this fall in Baltimore and will land on Broadway in 2024. Lewis joins a cast that includes Wayne Brady and Alan Mingo Jr. sharing the role of the Wiz, Deborah Cox as Glinda, Kyle Ramar Freeman as the Lion, Phillip Johnson Richardson as the Tin Man, and Avery Wilson as the Scarecrow.
Lewis, who grew up in Virginia and graduated from Molloy University in 2021, used her modest TikTok account to share her voice — one song was “Home” from “The Wiz” — and it came to the attention of casting agents, who invited her to audition.
“I’m so excited that this is a part of my story, because I feel like there’s so many people out there who started out with such a small following and I feel like they’re hard on themselves about it," she said. "But I’m like, ‘You never know who’s watching those videos.’ I never knew that ‘The Wiz’ was looking at my videos.”
The show is adapted from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, with a book by William F. Brown, and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls.
Lewis says she identifies with Dorothy, who is alone on a journey of self-discovery in a new world while also helping others along the way find out who they are.
“I feel like it’s extremely important for people, especially right now, to see that they can be powerful just by being themselves and just by being individual and unique. So I think that’s how the show speaks to me,” she said.
“The Wiz” opened on Broadway in 1975 and won seven Tonys, including best musical. It has such classic songs as “What Would I Do If I Could Feel” and “Ease On Down the Road.” The original Broadway production featured Mills as Dorothy, Dee Dee Bridgewater as good witch Glinda and Andre De Shields as the Wiz.
A 1978 movie version of “The Wiz” starred Ross, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor as the Wiz. Michael Jackson co-starred as the Scarecrow, with Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man and Ted Ross as the Lion. NBC televised a live version in 2015 with Queen Latifah, Ne-Yo and David Alan Grier.
Lewis' love of music was encouraged by her father, who died when she was young. At his service, she sang “My Help,” a song he sang when he was a child, and stunned the congregation.
“I don’t know what happened that day, but I guess just I had this voice come out of me that didn’t used to be there, but probably came from the millions of songs that I grew up listening to,” she says. “I felt like it was something that I could share with others and it was something that I noticed made other people happy.”
Lewis won a Golden Ticket on the most recent series of “American Idol” but didn't progress from the Hollywood round. Now she's earned another — leading a Broadway show.
Her mother, naturally, has been screaming and crying. “She's like, ‘Your life is going to change.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know. It probably will,’' she says, laughing. ”I feel so blessed and I’m so glad I get to share it with her."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits