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The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Q&A: Communication alum Nolan Robinson talks co-producing ‘The Wiz’ on Broadway

Photo courtesy of Nolan Robinson
Robinson graduated from the School of Communication in 2021 with a degree in theatre and political science.

When Nolan Robinson (Communication ’21) thinks back to his childhood, he recalls watching “The Wiz” — the all-Black retelling of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that opened on Broadway in 1975 and became a film starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson three years later.

“‘The Wiz’ itself was pretty much in my life since the moment I could form memories,” Robinson said.

After starring in the musical in high school — and a variety of stage and film projects at NU — Robinson, 24, is co-producing the Broadway revival of “The Wiz.” The production is set to begin performances at the Marquis Theatre later this month after a highly acclaimed run at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre.

The Daily sat down with Robinson to talk about his love for the performing arts, his time at Northwestern and his thoughts on what the show means to Black Americans.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

The Daily: When did you know that theatre and performing arts were your calling?

Robinson: Up until junior year of high school, I knew it was something that I was good at doing, and I liked to do a lot. I was in a (comedy-sketch) show at Evanston Township High School called ‘YAMO.’ Christina Ernst, who was the artistic director of the Evanston Dance Ensemble, asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, ‘Well, I kind of want to be on Broadway.’ She said, ‘Yeah, you can make that happen. We just need you training.’ It was in that moment, with what she said about my own performance, that I realized, ‘I think I can actually make something of this talent and skill that I have.’ I had aspirations to perform on Broadway, but that moment was when those aspirations were no longer aspirations but tangible goals because I knew it was possible.

The Daily: How did your experience both as a student and as an artist at NU prepare you for a career in the arts?

Robinson: One thing I loved about the theatre program is that they not only train us, but they give us an education. They educate us to know how to be functional human beings in the real world — not just actors and not just performers. As actors, of course we learn how to speak, and we learn to communicate. But the program teaches us to be human beings that are curious about the world.

The Daily: On the technical side, how has co-producing been different from your past work?

Robinson: It’s reminded me that Broadway is a business just like any other business. So I’m realizing, I’m an actor, but there’s a whole other side of this industry that many actors don’t know about. It’s really weird to wrap my head around an industry that I had come into as an artist and realizing that I’m now also a businessman in this industry. They are two very separate things. They can be the same thing, but in their essence, knowing that this is a business and what business decisions need to be made is not something that actors, who are trying to memorize their lines and think about the given circumstances of a character, need to think about often.

The Daily: The Wizard of Oz’ is such a timeless story that’s had so many iterations. ‘Wicked’ just had its 20th anniversary, and the film is coming out this year. How does working on ‘The Wiz’ feel full circle, and how does it feel different, as an all-Black adaptation of the original story?

Robinson: This show has put me on the path of performing that I’m on now. I have ‘The Wiz’ to thank for so much of my life, and many Black artists can say that, because it was something that enhanced the Black culture and experience and made Broadway Black. It was a show that lots of people thought was going to fail, and it almost did, but it won seven Tony Awards. And 50 years later, now that it’s coming back, it’s a huge milestone moment. To say that I was in the show, I got to sing the music, and now I’m involved with the Broadway revival of it is full circle. It’s just a beautiful moment, a moment that I’m entirely grateful for, a moment that I did not imagine coming in my life, but a moment that I’m very proud to be a part of.

Email: [email protected]

X: @jacob_wendler

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