At only 26 years old, Phillip Johnson Richardson has landed the role of a lifetime. He will star as the Tin Man in the Broadway reboot of The Wiz, which will tour this fall, then continue with a limited run on Broadway in 2024. The Wiz will be Richardson's Broadway debut with an epic cast that includes Deborah Cox, Avery Wilson and five-time Emmy winner Wayne Brady. Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina and a graduate of of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, this is career milestone for Richardson. So he had to sit down with BET.com to discuss his journey from Charlotte to the Land of Oz.
BET: The Wiz is such a powerful and iconic show, how does the story resonate with you?
Phillip Johnson Richardson: It's a great story because it's really about friendship, family and finding good people. We're talking about finding your people and Black joy. It's rare that you get to see Black people be happy on Broadway. I think the way that we're going in this version is so cool. We're gonna be smiling a lot.
BET: You are playing the Tin Man, who doesn't believe he has a heart. What is your heart?
Phillip Johnson Richardson: My heart is through my family. I have three little sisters and I was raised by my mom and my grandmother. Family can pull your strings in a way that only family can. But at the end of the day, my family will always be there for me. I'll always love them for it — and my dog as well! I love dogs. I got him during the pandemic. He's a pit bull. [Laughs]
BET: Although the Tin Man doesn't have heart, he is still very emotional. How can you relate?
Phillip Johnson Richardson: I relate to it because I'm very emotional. I have always been emotional since I was a kid. That's actually the reason I started to do theater. Because I was super emotional. And somebody was like, "I think you should start to." So then I started to do that. Anytime I think about my sisters, I'll talk to them and I'm like, "Why am I crying?" It's because I love my family so much. And they have had such a big part of who I am as a person. They made me very non-selfish. My family is my heart. I think that's how I get to the Tin Man.
BET: Have you always been attracted to musical theater?
Phillip Johnson Richardson: It's funny. My first show ever was in middle school. It was The Wiz — back in seventh grade and in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a movie that me and my mom used to watch all the time. That was our thing. They were doing it at my school my seventh grade year. I had started singing around the house. It wasn't anything serious. Then I did local shows. My mom was like, "You should do The Wiz audition." And I wanted to be the Scarecrow so bad. And I got a callback for the Tin Man. But I ended up being in the chorus. After that show, I was like, I kind of want to do this more. I started to really get into theater. I started to be obsessively into it and researching. My junior year of high school, I talked to my theater teacher and said, "I want to do this for real. I need to audition for colleges for this. I can only do this." I started doing it for real. It took a lot of work, long days and nights, but I'm here now.
BET: The Wiz will be your Broadway debut. How are you feeling?
Phillip Johnson Richardson: I mean, it's crazy, man. All these years, I've worked for this thing. And now it's actually happening. But I feel like it was the right time for everything. Of course, with this show specifically, this show means so much to so many people. Not only in the theater community, it means so much to our people, like Black people specifically. It's like, yo, we got to do this right. So there's a lot of pressure. But at the same time, I feel very blessed and happy to be here. The pressure doesn't really scare me. I've worked my whole life to get here. And everyone in the show has also worked super hard to get to here. It's exciting. And it's a lot of energy around it, too.
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