Magic of ‘The Wiz’ is from from cast, designers
BOSTON – The flying monkey and the witches won’t actually fly. Tornadoes? Only those created by humans. Toto will be heard and not seen.
No, the magic in “The Wiz” is theatrical magic, the kind of singing, acting and choreography that can make you believe that yes, indeed, all of the above has happened and this world has just been recreated on stage, in this case helped by a quartet of skilled dancers under the direction of choreographer Jean Apollon
“The Wiz” is based on L. Frank Baum’s timeless tale “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which has had a countless number of lives, the most recent success being the Tony-winning prequel “Wicked.”
But well before there was “Wicked,” there was “The Wiz,” and the 1974 Tony Award-winning musical has settled into comfortable middle age, no longer reflective of – at least not since the advent of rap and hip-hop – of contemporary urban music, more a snapshot of a time and place.
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston has revived the musical under the direction of Dawn M. Simmons and she, music director Allyssa Jones and Appolon have re-imagined the piece, installed some zydeco-inspired tweaks and given it new life.
That life comes from a cast – many of them newcomers to the Lyric – that is lithe, lively, and delivers original takes on familiar characters.
Boston Conservatory grad Salome B. Smith is Dorothy, a typical teen who is easily distracted from her Kansas farm chores, but she has a good heart. She is aware of burden that raising her has put on both Aunt Em (Carolyn Saxon) and Uncle Henry (Damon Singletary), but they wouldn’t have it any other way, as Em explains in the song “The Feeling We Once Had.”
But things change dramatically when Dorothy finds herself caught up in a storm – illustrated by ensemble members Saneka Anderson, Juanita Pearl, Pier Lamia Porter and Lance-Patrick Strickland in “The Tornado Ballet” – and ends up in Oz, making a dramatic entrance when she lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, taking her out of the picture, an event heartily applauded by the somewhat-addled Addaperle (Yewande Odetoyinbo), the Good Witch of the North.
Addaperle makes it her business to make sure Dorothy dons some super slippers before she embarks down the Yellow Brick Road, again suggested by the ensemble of dancers.
Brandon G. Green has been a welcome addition to the local theater in recent years and here he is a haughty Lion, who balances his cowardly instincts with bursts of bravado, and hints of naughty appetites that have nothing to do with food.
Steven Martin makes his Lyric debut as Tinman, a role he performs with easy-going grace and style; kudos to the make-up, assumedly by costume designer Amber Voner.
Elle Borders’ Scarecrow is a bit too understated and laid-back for my taste, a totally different take, but she sings and dances well.
Baron E. Pugh’s set combines a gritty urban landscape with a handy walkway above the stage and the necessary elements to suggest the world of Oz.
Davron S Monroe as The Wiz is all sizzle, flash and style without any hint of substance, but Monroe is all winning rascally charm, especially when it comes time for him to fulfill his promise to the quartet who took on the task of killing the wicked Evilene (Yewande Odetoyinbo, in a dual casting) with Dorothy essentially dissolving her like an Alka Seltzer, a la Margaret Hamilton in the movie.
It just so happens The Wiz is quick on his feet when it comes to his promises.
The eight -piece band led Jones is at home with ballads, jazzy interludes, or easing on down the road. Kudos to some stylish and evocative costuming by the aforementioned Amber Voner, who puts a new spin on characters we’ve grown to love.
Thanks to the efforts of Simmons, co-conspirators Jones and Appolon, and the cast, “The Wiz” skips down that Yellow Brick Road with ease and grace.
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston production of “The Wiz.” Music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls, book by William F. Brown, from the story “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum. Directed by Dawn M. Simmons. At the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through July 1. lyricstage.com