The Wiz Casting Director Bernard Telsey on Discovering Dorothy, Working with Meryl Streep and His Tony Predictions
If you happened to be walking down West 43rd street in Manhattan this past Saturday, you may have noticed hundreds of woman lined up looking a lot like Dorothy from The Wiz. That’s because Telsey + Co. had their open casting call for the role in NBC’s next musical adaptation, The Wiz Live!
Before the hopefuls auditioned, casting director Bernard Telsey and director Kenny Leon walked the line, which began right off 43rd street and 8th Avenue, outside of the Telsey + Co offices, and ran all the way to 9th Avenue and around the corner, to check out the crop of fresh faces.
As the woman rolled into the offices, Telsey spoke with PEOPLE about the long day ahead. “I can’t tell you how excited I got walking the line” he told PEOPLE. “Even if I was making quick assessments based on looks, there were so many girls. And I didn’t know any of them. I’m really juiced because it looks like a really good crowd.
“Everybody likes the idea of not having a preconceived notion of someone doing Dorothy and the idea of discovering somebody, but at the same time, if someone is a name actor or a working actor and they can do it, then they will win,” Telsey said.
“We aren’t going to sacrifice something to get a name actor, because it doesn’t have to be a name.”
And it isn’t only Broadway shows that Telsey + Co casts. They’ve cast movies like Into the Woods, Sex and the City 2, and the upcoming film Ricki and the Flash starring Meryl Streep.
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“For Ricki and the Flash, Meryl Streep was here for three days reading with people,” Telsey said. “She was reading with the men auditioning to play opposite her and with some of the kids. And it was awesome.
“When you have someone like her here, it just raises the bar.”
Streep didn’t want to hand-pick her costars, she just wanted to be included.
“It wasn’t even about having a say, it was about being a part of the collaboration and being a part of the process. Nothing beats that.”
Ricki and the Flash‘s August release isn’t the only exciting thing Telsey has coming up. His company had a hand in casting many of the Broadway shows nominated for Tony Awards, which air this Sunday on CBS.
“I’m looking forward to, hopefully, Hand to God winning best play, because it’s a play that not only our office cast but we produced with Kevin McCollum,” Telsey said.
Either way, there’s a good chance Telsey + Co will go home winners.
“This is a big year for the casting office because so many of the musicals we cast got nominated – American in Paris, the King and I, Something Rotten – and every one of those actors got nominated.”
And, as the Oz of Broadway casting, he of course has some predictions as to who will win.
“I think The King and I and American in Paris have real shots at winning best musical and best revival of a musical. Almost a given,” Telsey said.