|The cast of The Wiz|
photo: Sarah Rodgers
Click here for more information on this production that runs through September 20th.
"The enthusiastic crowd response this opening weekend ...seemed to boil down to a simple equation: Lion + choreography + killer solos = Wiz Wow. That eavesdropping perspective at Mesa Arts Center last night was pretty accurate about this production of "The Wiz,"... the musical is a re-telling of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," in the context of African-American culture. The success stories within that story last night were all about a fabulous Lion played by Nathanial Tenenbaum, Lynzee Foreman's creative, character-specific dance moves, and some individual powerhouse voices....From the second Tenenbaum roared onto stage, he had the crowd eating from his pscho-analyzed paws...everyone in the house identified with his honest struggle and cheered both his triumphs and the vocal sweet spots on which he routinely pounced. The dance stories told within this particular Oz story were fluid, thoughtful and engaging from beginning to end. ...Scarecrow's (Shawn Wong) crows danced and bobbed their heads like the real deal, verifying his sorry cornfield existence. Then Matravius Avent, a gifted tap dancer whose mellow song grew ever-sweeter, resurrected from rust his Tin Man character. The choreography made it seem that pure personality was lubricating his stiffened joints one by one. ...As for vocals, what a team of cameo soloists Musical Director Debra Jo Davey has assembled... from an opening with Aunt Em's (Felicia Penza) "The Feeling We Once Had" to a Glinda's (Anne-Lise Koyabi) closing "Believe In Yourself." In between, with a pining voice as big as Kansas, Dorothy (Jacqueline Monet) began her other-world journey, and the audience knew a few notes into "Soon as I Get Home" that they were in for an evening of soulful listening. Act II opened with an unbelievable injection of needed vitality when Savannah Alfred as Wicked Witch Evillene threatened "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News!" ...the re-told plot is at best choppy, thin. ..when 'The Wiz' has succeeded, it has done so because of a bigger message that supersedes the weakly re-told Baum story. That bigger message seemed missing this weekend. It confounded the cast and even infringed on the homogeneous potential that set and lighting design should offer...So overall, MET's excellent individualized efforts didn't quite gel into a cohesive story whole. The unity was arrested sometimes by staging, but mostly by characters who, though relatively secure in their own roles, have yet to nestle into their relationships with one another. It's a particularly tough job when the suffering story arc does little to encourage those bonds. That confusing story.... the mice? the Kalidahs? the hanging? the Wizard whose entrance is as a mere mortal? It just never comes together very clearly. Case in point: The audience was as puzzled as the onstage ensemble about the lyrics in "Emerald City Dance." That is, the Emerald City, by edict of the angry wizard, has now been declared... red? And then is never mentioned again?...As for this particular 'Wiz,' in MET's hands, it's about the song and dance and the story lion." -Jennifer Haaland, Examiner.com (click here to read the complete review)