Meet the Wiz

If you're in a mind to "ease on down the road" to Live Arts this weekend, you'll find yourself caught in a tornado of "funkified" energy. Clinton Johnston's direction of The Wiz, the company's latest offering, is beyond boisterous. I had the sense, watching the show on opening night last Friday, that every rehearsal for this cast and crew must have been a funfest. From the soles of their black converse "tennies" right through the tips of their snapping fingers, these folks grooved their way through the show. I don't know that I've seen a cast having so much fun on stage in a long time.

You know the story: Dorothy lives in dreary old Kansas and wants to find the magic that must surely exist in some less-dreary land. Enter a storm that sweeps her house up and drops it near the Land of Oz. Here the roads are paved with yellow bricks and scarecrows, lions, and men made entirely of tin talk and, more importantly, sing and dance as well. Dorothy, more than a little scared, just wants to go back home and, to that end, she starts on a journey to see the Wiz, who reportedly has the power to send her back to Kansas. Ultimately, of course, she finds that she already possesses all she needs to take her wherever she would like to go. No wizards are really necessary.

Johnston has set a quick pace for the production, and the result is a veritable whirlwind of sound and movement. Edna-Jakki Miller's choreography adds to the effect. She has wisely chosen to keep the dancing simple, but big. So the actors appear to be constantly engaged with the music— spinning, whirling, and strutting in a way that made me want to get up and join them. This is a cast of almost 20, and Johnston and Miller have done a good job of staging a large show with a large cast in a small space. 

Some scenes do trip over each other in the rush. I have seen the play before and the 1978 movie version, so I could follow along easily, but the transitions may be tough for anyone who doesn't know exactly what to expect.

Crystal Hall, in the role of Auntie Em, sings the show's first ballad, "The Feeling We Once Had," a lovely number about her relationship with Dorothy. Hall has a marvelous voice and her rendition of this song is perhaps the most fully realized moment in the show. To the audience's delight, Hall reappeared as feisty Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, in Act II. 

James Muhammad as the Tin Man shines in the show's sexiest number, "Slide Some Oil to Me," and Richelle Claiborne, as the Scarecrow, makes the most of her alto notes in "I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday." Isaih Anderson is the stand-out dancer with his Michael Jackson-esque moves, and Stacie Greenwell, as Dorothy, really finds her voice in the show's last number, "Home." The band— Doug Wanamaker, Craig Dougald, Bryan King, and Stuart Holme— is tight and terrific.  



It's not too late to catch the funky frenzy of this production. The show runs through March 30. Call Live Arts at 977-4177 for tickets and information.

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