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  • Tara Crutchfield

Malcolm X: The Musical

“Ignorance of each other is what has made unity impossible in the past. Therefore, we need enlightenment. We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.”  — Malcolm X.



The Historic Ritz Theatre will host “Malcolm X: The Musical” by Tommie Wofford on February 19. The show chronicles the life and times of minister, civil rights leader, and prolific speaker Malcolm X. “Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, “Malcolm X: The Musical” tells the extraordinary story of a man’s transformation from a life of crime on the streets of Harlem, to a minister and leader of the Black Muslim Movement,” according to the show’s synopsis.


The musical’s creator, Tommie Wofford, is partnering with the Ritz to make his February show a benefit concert in support of Black-owned businesses and nonprofits, as well as continued support for the production. One of the organizations the Playwright has chosen to support is the Black Homeschoolers of Central Florida. Since 2009, this organization has provided support, classes, field trips, and learning opportunities, along with hosting events for homeschooled youth from Pre-K through 12th grade.


As a former homeschooled student, Wofford said, “African Americans entering the homeschool circuit is happening, but it’s happening maybe slower than I’d like to see.  I feel like there are a lot of benefits to homeschooling, especially in our community. Some people don’t know that they can do it. It seems like a foreign concept. Anything I can do to help Rasheeda Denning and Black Homeschoolers of Central Florida, I’m going to do that.”


A PLAYWRIGHT FROM THE RIDGE


Hailing from Lake Wales, Playwright, actor, and producer Tommie Wofford began writing “Malcolm X: The Musical” at just 14 years old. Storytelling piqued his interest after enrolling in Theatre Winter Haven’s Academy classes at age 12. Semester after semester Wofford explored writing, performing, producing and “fell in love with it.”


“As a young African American male, I was doing a lot of identity searching. In that exploration of who I was, I was reaching for different mentors, reaching for material to read and knowledge to glean. That’s how I stumbled upon “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,”” Wofford said. “Because of some of the things that Malcolm X taught and believed earlier in his career, he can sometimes, by society, be viewed as this radical militant and that we should try to distance ourselves from his legacy, even in the African American community.”


Wofford’s soul searching, desire to tell African American stories and passion for theatre crystallized into his first musical. “I was able to tap into the passion, pain, and purpose and understand a little better why he believed some of the things he believed and apply those things to my life and my experience,” Wofford said.


One moment of the civil rights champion’s life that inspired Wofford to write his inaugural work involves the biblical story of Job as told to Malcolm X by his mentor, Elijah Muhammad. “It says that when Job was afflicted, he had a hedge of protection around him. There was a time when his hedge of protection was moved, and all these bad things happened to him. Once the hedge of protection was put back on, he didn’t have to live in that right life, but he chose to,” Wofford said. “I think that’s a really important lesson to be learned – especially by the youth. Not all the time are eyes on you, but are you still going to do the right thing?”


“Malcolm X: The Musical” debuted in a three-day ‘page to stage’ concert at Lake Wales Little Theatre in 2021. Soon after, the production was fully imagined at Theatre Winter Haven. “One of the things I knew early on with this show […] because of my age and the subject matter, it was going to be difficult to get people to get behind it. I had to be even more proactive and even more strategic with how I made my moves,” Wofford said. His approach appears to have paid off as the production has since graced the stages of Stetson University’s Second Stage Theatre, Orlando Shakespeare Theatre Company, and Feinstein’s 54 Below in New York City.


Having navigated obstacles to see his musical realized, Wofford has advice for other young creatives. “Just do it, but do it well and find the connections you already have,” he said. “You can’t sit idle and wait for something to happen or some opportunity to fall in your lap – because it’s just not going to happen.”



ABOUT THE MUSICAL


“Our musical follows [Malcolm X] from those early days in Harlem as a criminal to world-renown activist and minister for this organization that saved his life,” Wofford said.


Promotional materials for the show read, “Calling out the injustices of racism, Malcolm X preached a message of empowerment to the African Americans of his day. Step into the knowledge of who Malcolm really was in this contemporary musical, and experience the pain, passion, and purpose of his life story in a new way!”


Over 50 years since the assassination of Malcolm X at age 39, Tommie Wofford noted the enduring significance of his legacy. “It’s important now because we have so many online activists. We have people who sit on their couches or sit in the comfort of their homes, and they just spew words of concern, sometimes coming from a genuine place, or hurt or anger at whatever the matter may be. While that’s important, and there is validation in that, I think we need to go a little deeper,” he said. “When you look at Malcolm X, you see this guy who didn’t just tweet something or post something or talk about it. He made actual steps. [...] The activists today tend to be all bark, no bite. I think we need to, creatively and strategically, go from barking to nipping a little bit. If we do that, we may see some change.” 


THE FUTURE


The young musician and Playwright’s talents were recognized by the Lake Wales Rotary Club, which awarded him a music scholarship. And Wofford, now 19, has plenty of schools from which to choose. Since August, Wofford has been a student of Tony Award-Winning Corey Mitchell’s Theatre Gap Initiative program in Charlotte, North Carolina. Wofford will wrap up his time with the program in the spring. “Thanks to Corey’s help, I’ve been accepted into schools like New York Film Academy, Long Island University, and Berkley School of Music,” he said.


Beyond his debut musical, Tommie Wofford’s dream is to one day be an artistic director at a theatre company or to start his own with a focus on producing new works. “That will allow me to not only produce my own stuff but be a person opening up the gate for people to come in with their ideas too,” he said.  

Following his Ritz Theatre show will be an April 30 production of “Malcolm X: The Musical” at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando. These will be the last of Wofford’s Florida shows for a while, so don’t miss them! After the April performance Wofford and company will head up to New York to transfer “Malcolm X: The Musical” Off-Broadway this fall.


Photography provided by Tommie Wofford

 

“Malcolm X: The Musical” Staged Concert
Where: The Historic Ritz Theatre
263 W Central Ave, Winter Haven
When: February 19, 2023, at 7 pm.
Tickets available at centralfloridatix.com
Sponsorships are available; Contact Tommie Wofford at 
 
FB: Malcolmxthemusical
IG @malcolmxthemusical

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