THE WIZBook by William F. Brown
Music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls
Garland Civic Theatre
Director – Kyle McClaran
Musical Director – Byron Holder
Choreographer – Christian Houston
Assistant Choreographer – Chandler Houston
Scenic Designer – Kyle McClaran
Lighting Designer – Catherine Luster
Costume Designer – Kyle McClaran and Marshall Shugart
Costumes – Celeste Rogers
Sound Designer – Kyle McClaran
Properties Designer – Marshall Shugart
Stage Manager – Marshall Shugart
Aunt Em – Genine Ware
Dorothy – Christian Houston
Uncle Henry – Darren McElroy
Addaperle – Cindy Kahn
Scarecrow – Timothy Turner-Parrish
Tinman – Darren McElroy
Lion – R. Bradford Smith
The Wiz – Evan Figg
Evilene – Cindy Kahn
Glinda – Genine Ware
Gatekeeper – John C. Hogwood
Lord High Underling – Hector Cabrera
Messenger John C Hogwood
ToTo – Little Ruby
Tornado – Chandler Houston, Chavis Humphry, Brandi Giles, Timothy Turner Parrish, Anthony Willis
Munchkins – Allision Albee, Hector Cabrera, John C Hogwood, Samantha Mascucci, Brandy Nuttall, Alyse Sefchick
Yellow Brick Road – Chavis Humphrey, Chandler Houston, Brandi Giles
Crows – Evan Figg, Timothy Turner-Parrish, Anthony Willis
Kalidahs – Allison Allbee, Hector Cabrera, Brandi Giles, John C. Hogwood, Chavis Humphrey, Alyse Sefchick
Poppies – Allison Allbee, Brandi Giles, Chandler Houston, Samantha Masucci, Brandy Nuttall, Alyse Sefchick
Field Mice – Hector Cabrera, John C. Hogwood
Emerald City Citizens – Allison Albee, Hector Cabrera, Brandi Giles, Chandler Houston, Chavis Humphrey, Samantha Masucci, Brandy Nuttall, Alyse Sefchick, Timothy Turner Parrish, Anthony Willis
Winkies – Allison Albee, Hector Cabrera, Brandi Giles, Chandler Houston, Chavis Humphrey, Samantha Masucci, Brandy Nuttall, Alyse Sefchick, Timothy Turner Parrish, Anthony Willis
Winged Monkeys – Timothy Turner-Parrish, Anthony Willis, Evan Figg, Chavis Humphrey
Keyboards – Byron Holder
Guitar – Enrique Olachea
Percussion – Lino Gamez
Reviewed Performance: 8/1/2014
Reviewed by Scott W. Davis , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Wiz had its pre-Broadway run in 1974 at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore. The show was a success, to a point. Unfortunately, the producers weren’t quite as happy with the show, so when the show moved to the Majestic Theatre on Broadway in 1975, they brought in a new cast. Opening January 5th under the direction of Geoffrey Holder, it had a cast to die for including Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, Hinton Battle as the Scarecrow, Tiger Haynes as the Tin Man, Ted Ross as the Lion, Dee Dee Bridgewater as Glinda, André DeShields as the Wizard, Mabel King as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, and of all things, Phylicia Rashād as a Munchkin. If you listen to some of the music you may notice a certain familiarity. That’s because one of the biggest recording artists in the R & B genre was a driving force and co-collaborator of the music and lyrics. Luther Vandross brought his unique flair to the musical, but at the same token he brought large royalty fees. Producer Ken Harper actually contemplated closing the show after it’s opening on Broadway due to its heavy financial burden. 20th Century Fox, the major investor in the project agreed to pony up $100,000.00 if the production staff and artistic talent agreed to reduce royalty payments until the show paid off its $1.1 million dollar debt. They agreed to the terms and within eight weeks of opening the show was sold out every night. At the Tony Awards that year it all paid off with a win for Best Musical, Charlie Smalls for Best Original Score, Ted Ross for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, Dee Dee Bridgewater for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Geoffrey Holder for Best Direction of a Musical, George Faison for Best Choreography, and Geoffrey Holder for Best Costume Design.
In 1977 the show moved on down the road to the Broadway Theatre and continued its run, finally closing on January 28, 1979, after four years and 1,672 performances.
The Wiz was a breakthrough on Broadway as the first big budget musical with an all African American cast. The Wiz made it possible for other great shows like Dreamgirls to have a place on Broadway. One of the questions being asked in the audience before the musical began was which came first, the movie or the musical? Well here’s your answer: the film, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, was produced in 1978 after the musical made its mark on Broadway.
The Wiz opens the 2014-2015 season for Garland Civic Theatre. As we walked into the theatre I noticed Director/Scenic Designer Kyle McClaran’s fairly elaborate set with multiple levels, a bridge, two columns, and a lot of stairs taking up the majority of the space. All in black with yellow striping throughout, it kind of looked like a big bumble bee. A set of circular double doors up center becomes the focal point of the set. What I liked was that action happened in multiple areas to keep the audience intrigued and interested. The set itself never changes through the musical, but instead, Mr. McClaran uses set pieces to change locations or, as after the tornado, columns were knocked over to show the aftermath of the storm. It was extremely good use of a small space.
With co-designers Marshall Shutgart and Celeste Rogers, McClaran goes on to tackle the costumes as well, and WOW, this was no small task. I’ve seen productions in the past reduce the amount of pieces to make it easier on both the costumer and the budget. Not this production. These were probably the most elaborate costumes I’ve seen on stage in awhile. Addaperle’s outfit was impressive. Her entire head was surrounded by feathers with a great, three-foot tall hat popping out on top. The Tinman’s costume was absolutely fabulous, and I waited around after the show just to look at it close up. Everything was silver in color but the majority of the costume was football shoulder pads and dryer hose, really well conceived. The dancers’ costumes were extremely versatile. Whether they were the tornado, the mice, or Winkies, the costumes gave them the mobility to dance the choreography. Before Dorothy landed in Oz, all the costumes were earth-toned. When the poppies came out in bright red, Japanese-style clothing, it was eye opening. I loved the red Japanese umbrellas resembling a poppy flower. All the costumes were fabulous.
It wasn’t just the costumes that caught my eye. The prosthetics and other makeup were incredible and some of the best work I’ve seen in the smaller theatres. The lion was another costume I loved, with all the fur, but what sold me was the makeup. It was applied so well and blended so nicely, it took me back to the days of the musical Cats. When Evilene enters towards the end of the show, there was such a drastic change between the actress’ characters; it took me a while to figure out who she was.
Christian Houston came up with some of the best choreography I’ve seen in quite a while. Like the revival I saw in 1984, the choreography helped create movement, not just during a song but it made the set look like it was moving as the scene changed, and she does a heck of a job with it. I don’t think there was an inch of that set that didn’t have dancing on it. However, the choreography was so intense at times that some of the actors were having problems singing and dancing. Several times the music would stop and all you would hear was actors panting.
There was no sound designer credited, but all the principals were miked so someone had to have set levels. The vocal levels were all over the place but there was no feedback so that was a plus. I did notice they were using the wrong mic elements which forced them to bring the mic close to the mouth which accentuated the panting even more. But while the sound needed help, the lighting was on life support. The plot that Lighting Designer Catherine Luster hung was extremely uneven. The front lights were half gelled and half no color. There was no back light to add depth and her color wash was limited to red, yellow and green. Red lights were concentrated on stage right, yellow on stage left and green everywhere. With no cool tones in the plot, nighttime scenes or slower intimate moments became impossible to light. I gave up trying to figure it out.
Music Director Byron Holder was in charge of the singers, and at first I was nervous. During the first song most of the ensemble was pitchy and I was worried the entire production was going to head that way. I’ll put it to opening night jitters, however, because they were flawless the rest of the night. Mr. Holder took a three-piece band and really made it sound much larger than they were. I never had a problem being overpowered by the music even though they were right in front of me. I can’t give Mr. Holder all the credit as he had musicians of great talent in this production.
Genine Ware opens the show as Auntie Em. Ms. Ware’s first challenge was the song, “The Feeling We Once Had”, which she sang to a tee. Ms. Ware has a unique voice that has a slightly lower end to it which, when she belts, you sit up and take notice. Her first appearance is quite short but she returns at the end of the show as the good witch Glinda. Once again, we got to hear that lovely voice in the reprise of “Believe in You” which just brought me to my knees. She takes two characters and plays them as total opposites which just show how much depth she has.
Dorothy is played by Christian Houston, also the choreographer for the musical. This was an extremely demanding role for such a young actress but she acted like a trooper. Playing a lead character, I was worried about her forgetting lines, but she did a great job, only stumbling once that I noticed. Vocally, she sang well, though I felt she was holding back at times. It could be she was just tired from the long rehearsal process.
Addaperle, portrayed by Cindy Kahn, was 100% fun to watch. The faces she made through her first appearance were just priceless. I cannot speak to her dancing as; unfortunately, both of her costumes were so bulky she had problems moving in them. The mysterious, colored plunger at her waist was later found out to be her magic wand, and how she kept a straight face through her spell I don’t know. Now she transforms in act 2 to become Evilene, the evil witch. I always find it interesting to watch an actor have to transform 180 degrees in a show and she’s brilliant with it.
I must say that Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion seriously stole the show. A double-cast role, Timothy Turner-Parrish played Scarecrow during the reviewed performance and I was blown away by his dancing. I know we have some talented male dancers in the DFW area but his performance took the cake. The way he manipulated his body around the set was mesmerizing. He almost used the set as a second dancer which was incredible to watch. While dancing in the first act he actually throws himself at the arched bridge and somehow pushes himself back off of it in one fluid motion.
Tinman was portrayed by Darren McElroy. During his first number, “Slide Some Oil to Me”, he played the rusted, metal man to the hilt. He started off moving stiffly and slowly animated himself through his realization of being able to dance. With the prosthetic he had on his face you really couldn’t see any facial expressions, they were mostly covered up so Mr. McElroy emphasizes all of his other movements. His costume was quite elaborate and bulky. I couldn’t believe how well he moved in it. Vocally, Mr. McElroy brought down the house with his solidly perfect rendition of “To Be Able to Feel”.
The Lion comes courtesy of R. Bradford Smith. While being the last to join the trio, he’s certainly not the least, vocally that is. Mr. Smith’s voice was as boisterous as a lion’s. Through Act One, Mr. Smith’s Lion showed great vulnerability, his movements even exemplifying his fear. "Be a Lion" is his duet with Dorothy and I have to admit I smiled from ear to ear during the song. Their voices just worked well together. One of my favorite parts of act 1 is the poppies scene. The lion supposedly gets high from the poppies, his face had me laughing so hard my neighbor was smacking my hand. By Act Two, when Lion got his courage, Mr. Smith transformed by bouncing around the stage. His was just a fun character to watch.
Now you can’t have a show called the Wiz without a wizard, right? While the Wiz is in two very short scenes they are pivotal to the story. Evan Figg portrays The Wiz and was extremely light on his feet in his dance numbers. Mr. Figg wore a large scull prosthetic in his first scene that kind of reminded me of a Martian head. The extra large prosthetic didn’t seem to hinder his dancing though. In act one The Wiz Sings "So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard" which is where he one by one gets the group to do his bidding in return for the groups wants. First off his dancing through the entire number was electric. The way he bounced back and forth between characters was fabulous. Secondly the interaction between him and the characters was great. He made it look like he was antagonizing the group into doing what he wanted. I loved it. Vocally in the first song he was strong even with all the choreography he had to do. My only vocal criticism was during the song, “Believe in You”, where his big note at the end of the song was hit but could not be sustained until the last.
The ensemble for this show was huge but I almost feel that it would be a disservice to not mention some of the standouts. First of the flying monkeys were great. Timothy Turner-Parrish, Anthony Willis, Evan Figg, Chavis Humphrey really bring some good dancing to the show. In a space where flying is just not possible they made the entire scene work with just dancing.
The Tornado was one of the best scenes as far as dancing goes. The choreography of the tornado dancers was intricate in that they dance between all the characters that were caught up in the tornado. Chandler Houston, Chavis Humphry, Brandi Giles, Timothy Turner Parrish, Anthony Willis took the tornado to new heights.
It seemed as though anytime there was some serious dancing happening you knew you were going to see these four people. They were really the core group and probally the most talented dancer in the ensemble. Allison Allbee, Brandi Giles, Chandler Houston, and Hector Cabrera from beginning to end, they were the cream of the crop.
The Wiz is not necessarily the adult version of the story we all know, but I also think young kids might not completely understand the show. While Garland Civic Theatre’s production has technical aspects falling short of professional, the acting, dancing and music make up for it. Ultimately, the musical is two hours of high energy entertainment that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Garland Civic Theatre
The Patty Granville Arts Center
300 N. Fifth St. Garland, TX
Runs through August 23rd
Performances are Friday – Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Additional performances are on Thursday, August 7th at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, August 23rd, at 2:30 pm.
Tickets are $27.00 each with $4.00 each discount for groups of ten or more.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.garlandcivictheatre.org or call their box office at 972-205-2790.