The Cowardly Lion may live in the land of Oz, but when Bert Lahr played him in the 1939 movie, he spoke with a New York accent.
“He did a sort of Brooklyn, N.Y., guy — that was the context in which he understood the comedy,” said Lance Roberts, who is playing the Cowardly Lion in the North Shore Music Theatre’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Like Lahr, Roberts is also from New York, but he developed his sense of humor in a different neighborhood — in Harlem.
“I love Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx and Flip Wilson, even Whoopie Goldberg,” he said. “So, I have combined all of those characters into this new lion. There’s even a little George Jefferson in there.
“Hopefully, people will be open to a new interpretation, instead of an impersonation. Hopefully, it will be an homage to all these great African-American comedians I love.”
While he hails from New York, Roberts is familiar with the North Shore, having graduated from Masconomet High School in 1977.
“I was part of a program called ABC,” Roberts said, referring to A Better Chance, an educational opportunity program that was founded in the 1960s. “I was part of the first group at Masconomet. It gave these inner-city kids a chance to come up here in 1974.”
Roberts had been admitted to the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, but his mother urged him to come to Massachusetts.
“She thought it was a better opportunity,” Roberts said. “She knew that Masconomet had courses that prepared you for college, and that was her goal.”
In addition to a “spectacular curriculum,” Masconomet also offered every opportunity an aspiring performer could want.
“They had theater, musicals, dramas, chorals, big singing groups,” he said. “We also had a rock band that was a class, called rock ensemble, that was taught by Mr. Robert Manseau. You auditioned for it, but once you got in, it was great. We did gigs.”