The Column Online



Book by William F. Brown
Music and Lyrics by Charlie Smalls

Dallas Theater Center

Director - Kevin Moriarty
Musical Director - Lindy Heath Cabe
Choreographer - Christopher Lance Higgins
Stage Manager - Eric Tysinger
Set Designer--- Jo Winiarski
Lighting Designer - Jaymi Lee Smith
Costume Designer - Wade Laboissonniere
Wig/Hair Designer - Cookie Jordan
Sound Designer - Charles R. Parsley II

CAST as listed on cover page

Claude Alexander III, Major Attaway, Feleceia Benton, Makeda
Crayton, Katricia Eaglin, Hassan El-Amin, Richard A. Freeman,
Stephanie Hall, Candice Hamblett-Holford, Sydney James
Harcourt, Michelle Hebert, Diana Herrera, James Tyrone Lane,
Denise Lee, Amber Merrick, Liz Mikel, Calvin Roberts, David
Ryan Smith, Derrick Smith, Sean Smith, Jamie Thompson,
Tyrone C. Walker

Featuring Trisha Jeffrey as Dorothy

Conductor/Keyboard 1 - Elaine Davidson
Drums - Mike Drake
Bass - Peggy Honea
Guitars - Joe Lee
Keyboard 2 - Mary Medrick
Trumpet/Flugelhorn - Larry Spencer

Reviewed Performance: 7/17/2011

Reviewed by Clyde Berry, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The Dallas Theater Center's production of The Wiz has all the basic traits of the Wizard of Oz that one could expect. Most of the basic elements of the 1975 Tony Award winning African-American telling of the tale are present albeit abbreviated. Still, this shortened, smartly stylized production has made courageous cuts and is sung with heart.

The Wiz is an African American telling of the Wizard of Oz essentially following the same story outline as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Lyman Frank Baum, and made famous by the 1939 movie of the original version, and the 1978 Wiz movie made famous for flopping. With African musical styles employed in the songs, DTC believes this version of the Baum story to chronicle not only the story of a girl searching for home (both literally and metaphorically) but also a celebration of the African American experience.

Director Kevin Moriarty has created an intriguing theatrical experience that is sure to be enjoyed by audiences unfamiliar with The Wiz. However, for die-hard fans there will be many questions unanswered after viewing. Why are some songs and scenes cut? Where is Toto? (A bark is heard in the opening scene but Toto isn't seen. He's also never mentioned again even though four dogs are listed in the program).

Why do the piece as a 90 minute one act instead of the two act version? Why are the songs and scenes rearranged? Where does the new material come from? Why are there no production numbers listed in the program?

Some of the cuts and reordering don't logically make sense. Why does the Tinman have his two solos right in a row? That seems to alter his character arc. Why does the Wiz himself sing his first song fully visible to Dorothy and her friends? This makes the reveal of the Wiz's con incredibly weak. While the audience is instructed to wear green glasses during the sequences in the Emerald City, this lesson from the story seems lost and is only perfunctorily covered in the scene. In fact, with so many cuts to the scenes it's difficult to say what the meat of this production is about and what the characters learn on a deeper level. In fact were it not for the sake of the songs one wonders why DTC is producing The Wiz instead of The Wizard of Oz.

Yes these are some seemingly large concerns. Yes some moments feel rushed, or quibbles can be made about why some things are cut over others and why the order of things is restructured. Still, these are bold choices to make and frankly, the production concept is engaging, fun, and well performed enough that entertainment-wise, it doesn't matter. The 90 minutes flew by and the diverse crowd of folks in attendance clapped, cheered, and laughed throughout.

Most notable in this concept is the use of the mobile seating pods. These sections of seats start in a traditional format then move throughout the production in at least 12 different sequences and formations. The genius of this idea puts the audience on the road with Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Tinman, and makes the journey a very engaging one. One audience member remarked it was like being at Universal Studios.

This flexible staging allows director Kevin Moriarty a wide array of visual pictures that are used quite successfully with few moments of sightline frustration. Logistically this is a very complex idea that is well thought out, designed and executed. The army of stagehands is unobtrusive, quiet; the ride smooth, well timed and not distracting. Kudos as well for having the stagehands bow at the end; they deserve it.

The Sunday evening performance showed signs of fatigue after an opening weekend full of performances that do not allow the cast any breaks. The cast also seems to be more excited about their music than their spoken scenes which lack some energy but certainly do come to life singing. The ensemble does not consist of a traditional chorus but instead the incredibly talented members of the Dallas Black Dance troupe who also fill out any smaller acting roles. With all the time cut from the script it's a shame that some of the cuts are dance breaks that are reduced or eliminated.

The choreography by Christopher Lance Higgins is exciting, diverse, and complex. Higgins makes full use of the mobile scenery used in the production and has the cast dancing, chasing, and singing at one climactic point on multiple pods. With all of these pieces in play and audience members in the middle of the number, this is a very challenging sequence that is well worth what is sure to have been long rehearsals and planning. Both the ladies and gents excel whether as smaller ensembles in the "Road" sequences, Poppy dancers, or in other large numbers as Winkies (the slaves of Evillene) or the tornado at the top of the show. More of the Dallas Black Dance troupe would have been very welcome.

Jo Winiarski's set design incorporates the mobile pods as well as some visually stunning sets for Evilinne, the Wicked Witch of the West. This includes large bone chandeliers, and a throne wagon that is built upon a mound of skulls. Creepy and cool. Several flys provide backdrops for a Kansas farm, a generic Oz landscape with a winding road and poppy field, as well as an Oz portal with a large head with a drawbridge mouth. Even smaller pieces like the Scarecrow's mound are solidly crafted and finished with detail. Jayme Lee Smith's lights are seamless and well planned. With a constantly changing landscape to light, Smith meets the challenge without dark spots or distractions.

The costume designs of Wade Laboissonniere are outstanding. A mix of fabrics and textures abound, perfectly suit individual characters yet still blend into the world of the production. The Scarecrow is a mix of plaids for each appendage, the Tinman a delightful assembly of metallic plastics and fabrics over a body suit, and the Lion's regal coat and shorts are appropriately showy. Evillene's dress is particularly stunning - a mix of seemingly distressed glory corrupted with evil.

Particular standout are the Crows with hats, masks, feet, and beautiful extended bodies that protrude from the back of the dancers for comic dancing. Addapearle is a fun mix of colors and patterns to match her personality. Cookie Jordan should get credit for wigs that are functional for quick changes, and so realistic that had cast members not been a few away, they would never have been noticed to have been wigged at all.

Lindy Heath Cabe has done well preparing the music for the singers. Once they start singing they sound great, and there is a clear engaged connection. While fatigue and microphone pops magnified some diction issues Sunday evening, each cast member proves why they belong in this show every time they sing. The pit singers- Major Attaway, Feleceia Benton, Stephanie Hall, and Calvin Roberts also are a much needed part of this production. Always engaged and visible offstage this crew of vocalists is solid and they seem to be having fun, down to a pair of green shoes.

Elaine Davidson, as conductor, does well to maintain a good balance between the visible pit, just off the stage, and the cast. The music is very well played and never overpowering even when the audience is seated right against the pit.

Doubling as Aunt Em and Glinda, Denise Lee shines when singing her advice to Dorothy. She brings a grounded heart and earthy wisdom to the message of her music.

Hassan El-Amin serves as Uncle Henry and The Wiz himself. El-Amin's James Brown flash carries "So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard" but his slower piece as he counsels the travelers and rewards them for their work is more sincere and dramatically pleasing as well as being beautifully sung.

As Dorothy, Trisha Jeffrey possesses a fresh face and a set of pipes that solidly delivers "Be a Lion". Jeffrey is a talented singer that is able to hold the show together around her (as it literally slides by), unfazed.

With the delightful quirky characters of Addaperle and Evillene, Liz Mikel proves why she is a favorite of the metroplex. Addaperle is streetwise, sassy, and full of bluster, and Evillene is just plain mean. Mikel creates two very different personas and delivers her own "No Bad News" worth remembering. Her chanting was also particularly fun to watch and immediately copied by all the children in attendance.

James T Lane's Scarecrow is his own creation and his physical character is sharp. Sadly, microphone trouble clouded his song "I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday" but he is a reliable member of the quartet of friends. Punctuating scenes with punch lines, his amiable nature is quite welcome.

As the Tinman, Sydney James Harcourt stands out. Both "Slide Some Oil to Me" and "What Would I Do If I Could Feel" are well acted and soulfully sung. The Tinman is not above flirting with the ladies in attendance and is clearly comfortable in every aspect of his performance. It's clear to see why he's on Broadway.

Likewise, David Ryan Smith claws up the scenery with his portrayal of Lion. Never one to scene steal but lead whenever he can, Smith's take on the Lion is fresh and appropriate. Smith brings energy to the quartet that helps push things along. It's a shame that Smith doesn't have a chance to shine in "Lion's Dream", a cut sequence.

The Wizard of Oz is a familiar story to most and exists in a plethora of forms - live action, literary, cinematic, animation, Muppet, puppets, and thematic adaptations. Every version strays from the source somehow and even the movie adaptation of The Wiz resets scenes, changes songs, and tinkers with the book. While DTC has given the script an uneven overhaul, as an individual piece, this engaging conceptual piece is well worth easing on down to see.

Dallas Theater Center with Dallas Black Dance Theatre
Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, 2400 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Through August 7th

Show times are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00pm; Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm & selected Thursdays at 2:00 pm

Ticket prices are $15 - $85 for adults and $15 for children age 18 and younger (subject to change).

Tickets are available by calling the box office at 214-880