Not in Kansas anymore
A reimagining of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ that has soul bursting from the seams
Book by William F. Brown
Music/Lyrics by Charlie Smalls
Lyric Stage Boston
May 18 – July 1
Among adaptations of the L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Wiz is notable for its depiction of African American culture and its appearance in popular culture through “Ease on Down the Road.” While there are technical issues with Lyric Stage’s production of The Wiz, the show features a cast of exceptionally talented actors who make the show a pleasant experience in the theater.
The Wiz takes the familiar plot of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and infuses it with elements of African American music and dance. Dorothy Gale, wanting a more exciting life than the one she currently has in Kansas, is suddenly swept away in a tornado into the magical land of Oz. Once there, she finds out that she has accidentally crushed the Wicked Witch of the East. Suddenly stuck in a foreign land, Dorothy seemingly has no way back home. All seems lost until the Good Witch of the North, Addaperle, tells her that the Wiz will be able to solve her problems. With nothing more than a yellow brick road to follow and a pair of silver slippers, Dorothy jauntily makes her way to Emerald City.
Regarding the performances of the cast, the actors convey great vitality in The Wiz’s upbeat retelling of Baum’s novel. While the main four friends are each funny and convincing in their own way, the standout performances come from Brandon Green as The Cowardly Lion and Davron Monroe as The Wiz. Both command the stage with great comedic presence, and as their characters reveal their true personalities, they give touching introspections into their characters.
Musically, the production suffers from sound balance issues, which make it difficult for first-time listeners to comprehend the lyrics. Most of the actors’ singing does not seem to be amplified, which causes the pit band to obscure the vocals. “The Feeling We Once Had” and “Ease on Down the Road” have noticeable occurrences of these problems, whereas scenes with The Wiz are much easier to follow along due to amplification of The Wiz’s voice. The sound from the pit band also has a muffled quality that is unexpected from hearing live music. That said, however, there is exceptional singing from the cast, and Salome Smith delivers a thrilling rendition of “Home” that is alone well worth going to the show for to experience.
As for the overall style and presentation of the show, we were very intrigued with the flair that the set designer brought to the Lyric Stage. The stage, small as it was, was packed with detail and care. Upon closer inspection of the floor and steel drums on stage, one can notice that they are actually adorned with tribal and shamanistic symbols. Relying on African American iconography that honors rather than trivializes the cast’s culture, the set is a lovely celebration of African American history.
Overall, The Wiz is a wonderfully unfaithful reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s novel. Complete with showstopping tunes and gorgeous dance numbers, this performance is definitely one fairytale that shouldn’t be left just to the kids.
Correction: A previous version of this article attributed the role of Dorothy to Soneka Anderson.