Review: The Wiz

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Jon Elliott, Dominique McClellan and Charis Gullage star in The Wiz.
  • Jon Elliott, Dominique McClellan and Charis Gullage star in The Wiz.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, her dog Toto and the Lion almost don’t make it to the emerald city of Oz, after they leave the yellow brick road to cut through a field of poppies. They fall under a witch's spell and go to asleep among the flowers. In The Wiz, an updated musical version for an all-black cast, only Lion is beguiled by the poppies. In See ’Em on Stage Productions’ version at Delgado Community College through March 25, Lion finds himself lagging behind the others to mingle with a cast of sultry dancers to swanky music and dimmed lights. He throws a slew of corny come-ons at the dancers, and adds “There must be a banana peel in here, because I am trippin’.”

Lion’s sass is part of the vision behind The Wiz, which was first staged in 1974 and later adapted into a movie starring Diana Ross (Dororthy) and Michael Jackson (Scarecrow). Dorothy still finds herself carried away from Kansas, and vistas of Oz projected on a screen at the back of the stage project a whimsical, candy-colored world, but most of the songs are grounded in soul and R&B.

The singing throughout the show is stellar, especially by Charis Gullage as Dorothy, whose powerful singing is highlighted on “Be a Lion.” Also excellent are Dominique McClellan’s (Tin Man) “What Would I do If I could Feel” and Whitney Mixon’s (Evillene) “Don’t Nobody Bring Me Bad News.” The ensemble delivers an infectiously joyous “Everybody Rejoice/A Brand New Day.”

The storyline is familiar, but the musical is light on development and seems to expect audiences to know the plot. A tornado transports Dorothy away from her family in Kansas to Oz, where she is welcomed by a crew of Munchkins, who are decked in brightly colored wigs and outfits. Dorothy sets out for the city of Oz in the hope that The Wiz (Rahim Glaspy) will be able to help her get home to Kansas. Addaperle (Kathleen Moore), aka the Good Witch of the North, offers some advice as well, but her magic sometimes fails her, as she explains when she can’t disappear. “Sometimes I take the bus,” she says in an exasperated tone before walking offstage.

While following the yellow brick road (“Ease on Down the Road”), Dorothy is joined by Scarecrow (Jon Elliott), Tin Man and Lion (Eddie J. Smith). Evillene (Whitney Mixon), dressed like a dominatrix, enjoys making others miserable and vows to capture Dorothy for landing her house on another witch. The travelers soon find themselves at Oz, where The Wiz demands they kill Evillene in exchange for his help.

The Wiz is a joint project between See ’Em on Stage Productions and Delgado Community College, and much of the cast comes from area universities. Gullage is a student at Loyola University New Orleans. Glinda is played by Destani Smith, a student at Dillard University. Delgado and Dillard students make up most of the ensemble.

Besides his dalliance in the poppy field, Smith finds plenty of laughs in Lion’s suspect courage. He has great comedic timing and clowns well. Glaspy also is excellent as a smooth-talking, unflappable Wiz.

Choreography is a mixed bag. The early tornado scene is a wind-blown mess, particularly as a clumsy device to remove stage props. Many of the larger numbers have plenty of people on stage, and the group’s energy overcomes any lack of polish. There’s some unpolished mugging, as in the Munchkins’ “He’s the Wizard.”

James Means’ set is surprisingly successful in placing the band like an island in the center of the stage. It’s partially under a raised platform with stairs on both sides, and action swirls above and around it. Set and props are otherwise minimal.

In the original film, it seemed odd that Dorothy wanted to leave the colorful land of Oz to go back to the black-and-white plains of Kansas. With this production of The Wiz, it’s the music that makes Oz wonderful. It’s well worth the trip.

The Wiz
March 9-25
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Delgado Community College, Timothy K. Baker Theatre, first floor, 615 City Park Ave., (504) 671-6616
Tickets $23, students $15


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