News Column

'Wiz' cast soars, but production fails to fly

June 1, 2013

YellowBrix

June 01--Dorothy and her friends are still easing on down the road in "The Wiz," though the production at the Grandel Theatre could use a little oil to make it smoother.

The African-American retelling of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" closes out the Black Rep's current season.

Originally produced on Broadway in 1975, "The Wiz" is a sure crowd-pleaser for the Black Rep. The familiar story is stuffed with soulful music and geared toward the entire family.

The timing of the show couldn't be better, with the ongoing popularity of all things Oz, including the musical "Wicked" to the recent movie "Oz the Great and Powerful."

The Black Rep's new production boasts Broadway veterans Cedric Neal (The Crab Man in "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess") as the Wiz and Sophia Stephens (Nala in "The Lion King") as Glinda the Good Witch of the South.

Directed by Black Rep founder Ron Himes, "The Wiz" is still a toe-tapper. Kansas girl Dorothy, in a chipper, big-voiced performance by Sarah Stephens (Sophia Stephens' sister), is swept away to the magical land of Oz.

After landing her house on an evil witch, Dorothy encounters a group of new friends: There's the nimble Scarecrow (Ian Coultier-Buford), looking for a brain; the creaky Tin Man (Keith Tyrone), looking for a heart; and a lion (Herman Gordon) who just got his mane "done," looking for courage.

Linda Kennedy has a ball on stage as the Good Witch of the North, Addaperle; Raphaelle Darden is the gone-too-soon Wicked Witch of the West, Evillene; and Daniel Hodges is gleefully over the top as the Gatekeeper. Neal is delicious in his portrayal of the Wiz.

The cast universally soars through the production, though the audio on the band was low and muddy. Songs such as Aunt Em's (Nakischa Joseph) "The Feeling We Once Had,"Gordon's "Be a Lion," Neal's "So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard," Tyrone's "What Would I Do If I Could Feel" and Sarah Stephens' show-closing "Home" are among the highlights.

But "The Wiz" underwhelms in its set production, which looks flimsy and unreliable. Glitter that doubles for water just doesn't work.

Visitors to this Oz won't help but wish they were left more blown away by the visuals.

'The Wiz'

When --Through June 30. Performances at 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, matinee at 2 p.m. June 22

Where --Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square

How much --$29-$47

More info --314-534-3810; MetroTix.com

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(c)2013 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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