Friday, June 19, 2009

The Wiz


Having talked through a performance of The Wiz during its Broadway run in the 1970s and more recently suffered through a trashy-looking VHS playback of the tedious Hollywood version, I am happy to report that the current revival of the show at City Center's Encores! shut me up and kept me almost giddily entertained at Wednesday night's pre-opening preview.

A funk-and-soul-inflected version of The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz always had a lot going for it in terms of story and music and dance. This version shows it off to good effect, from the "interpretive dance" storm to the disco-meets-Rocky Horror spectacle of Oz to the old-school jokeyness of the dialogue. (William F. Brown wrote the original book; Charlie Smalls wrote the music and lyrics with a helping hand from Luther Vandross on "Everybody Rejoice (Brand New Day).")

The featured performers—Ashanti as Dorothy, Orlando Jones as The Wiz, and LaChanze as Aunt Em/Glinda—are all fine, but the great strength of the production is the ensemble as a whole, with entertaining turns from the whole cast, including Tichina Arnold as Evillene and Dawnn Lewis as Addaperle to Christian Dante White as the Scarecrow, Joshua Henry as the Tinman, and James Monroe Iglehart as the Lion as well as nearly two dozen singers and dancers.

Presiding over this imaginative, amusing production is the In the Heights team of director Thomas Kale, choreographer Andy Blankenbueler, costume designer Paul Tazewell, and music director Alex Lacamore. David Korins (Passing Strange, Yellowface) takes the credit for the scenic design; Ken Billington (Chicago) did the lighting design.

I expect the next step for Dorothy will involve a transfer to Broadway a la Gypsy—unless it's scuttled by, say, this harsh review by Charles Isherwood. In the meantime, you've got until July 5 to see The Wiz at City Center. I recommend taking advantage of the production's consumer-friendly pricing scheme, which opens up $25 seats in the orchestra section; taking advantage of Theatermania discounts, you might be able to get those seats for as little as $15.

Here's rehearsal footage.

Source (4:08)

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