Based on the story “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by Frank Baum.
Book by William F. Brown.
Music & Lyrics by Charles Smalls.
Directed by Lili-Anne Brown.
Music Direction by Jimmy Morehead.
Choreography by Breon Arzell.
Produced by Kokandy Productions.
At Theater Wit, Chicago.
Heartfelt, soulful and funny urbanized retelling of the Wizard of Oz is a major triumph!
Under the skilled theatrical craftsmanship of director Lil-Anne Brown and choreographer Breon Arzell, Kokandy production’s non-Equity production of The Wiz is a fun musical. It is filled with heart and soul as the African-American urbanized retelling of the Oz story is a funky, campy and heartfelt production. Led by the strong voiced and charming Dorothy (Sydney Charles), this adventure is a dance heavy trip to the Emerald City. Steeped in Black urban culture, this winning production is a humorously manic trip.
From the opening tornado ballad we realize that this Wiz is a dance-filled musical. Sydney Charles is an empathetic Dorothy who sings nicely and dances effectively. Her kindness allows her to help three needy souls get to see The Wizard in order to get their needs met. We love these guys: Scarecrow (Gilbert Domally), Tinman (Steven Perkins), and Lion (Chuckie Benson). Each of these lovable creatures are worthy of a brain or a heart or some courage and each sing and dance nicely. Their chemistry with Dorothy is infectious. We cheer for them as they navigate their way toward The Wizard.
We are enchanted along the way by the fine dancing from the population Dorthy and her group meet. Our first impression of Frederick Harris’ The Wizard is strange one. His “So You Want to Meet The Wizard” is movingly powerful.
Act two brings out the magic of the arch-villain Wicked Witch of the West – Evillene – played with scary humor by the dominant Nicole Michelle Haskins. She nails the R & B show-stopper “No Bad News” with outstandingly wild dancing from the ensemble. Haskins is, indeed, a force of nature! We see hope and happiness triumph with catchy tunes like
“Everybody Rejoice” (penned by Luther Vandross). The lesson the Wizard expresses in “Believe in Yourself” and “Y’all Got It” are taken seriously by Dorothy and her friends. Along the journey, we laugh and cheer for Dorothy and her crew.
This warm revival is long on campy humor, with emotionally strong vocals with some of the most innovative and finely executed choreography seen in a non-Equity musical in years. Kudos to Breon Arzell. Lili-Anne Brown’s casting is superb as she found several talents such as Nicole Michelle Haskins (Evillene), Frederick Harris ( The Wiz) and Angela Alise (Addaperla) to round out her cast. You’d be hard pressed to find a stronger and more talented cast than the nineteen players found here!
This cast expressed the hope and courage necessary to accomplish their desires. The do so with dazzling rock, R & B, gospel and soul tunes. This is a fun, feel-good musical. The Wiz is one of 2017’s best shows. Don’t miss it!
Date Reviewed: March 11, 2017.
For more info checkout The Wiz page at theatreinchicago.com.
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL call 773-975-8150, www.kokandyproductions.com, tickets $33 – $38, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, Additional performances on Sat. April 1 at 3 pm, Wed. April 5 at 8pm, Sat April 8 at 3pm, Wed.April 12 at 8pm, Sat. April 15 at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through April 16, 2017.