Terrific cast helps ‘The Wiz’ work its magic
This review first appeared in Greenville Online
There are moments in GLOW Lyric Theatre’s production of “The Wiz” that make you want to shout for joy — and you probably will.
On Friday night, when Chris Lee’s hyper-kinetic Scarecrow starting channeling the late Michael Jackson, moonwalking with abandon and singing “I Was Born the Day Before Yesterday,” the crowd at the Peace Center’s Gunter Theatre roared its approval.
It’s one of the indelible scenes in Jenna Tamisiea’s sharp, snappy staging of “The Wiz,” the funky, joyous reimagining of “The Wizard of Oz.”
The show’s cast really makes this musical sparkle. Tanisha Moore is a petite Dorothy with powerful pipes and a radiant smile. Moore’s Oz-bound cohorts produce a similarly terrific impression.
The 1975 Broadway show follows along the lines of the 1939 “Wizard of Oz” but with an urban sensibility, a little more sass and some quaintly dated dialogue. (I’m not jivin’ ya.)
The genially humorous “Wiz” retains much of the classic film’s innocence, particularly in the character of Dorothy. Charlie Smalls’ original music, winner of the 1975 Tony Award for Best Score, is an appealing mix of soul, jazz, R&B, funk and gospel.
The musical ran on Broadway for four years, resulting in a major film adaptation (with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson) and a hit song, “Ease on Down the Road.”
Tamisiea’s GLOW staging is energetic, even rambunctious, with her diverse cast giving the show an irrepressible spirit.
GLOW’s production often substitutes choreography, by the bountifully creative Maurice Sims, for special effects. When Moore’s Dorothy is whisked away via an interpretive-dance tornado to the land of Oz, she’s joined in quick succession by the Scarecrow (the aforementioned Lee), Tin Man (Benjamin Moore) and Cowardly Lion (Xerron Mingo).
Their early scenes are some of the best in the show with Lee, Mingo and Benjamin Moore acting their parts with zest and flair, and singing with suave, soaring voices.
Joslynn Cortes is the marvelously snarky witch Evilene. Demetruis Spidle, as the Wiz, is a cool customer with a voice of velvet.
Tierney Breedlove, as Glinda, boasts a silky smooth soprano. Leryn Turlington, dressed in motley, is the charmingly ditsy witch Addaperle.
A few quibbles: At two hours and 30 minutes, the show seems rather long and some of the dances do run on a bit. But the audience is amply rewarded by the vocals, which really make the show shine.
Will Lowry’s fanciful costumes are superb.
The five-piece pit band, under the astute direction of GLOW general director Christian Elser, is dynamic, though the long overture seems rather formal for a show this breezy.