The joy of 'The Wiz'

Posted Wednesday, August 17, 2011 in Culture

The joy of 'The Wiz'

by Gina Hamilton

BRUNSWICK - Maine State Music Theater rounds out its season this year with The WIZ, which won the TONY in 1975 and went on to become a movie in 1978, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. 

MSMT presented The WIZ as it was originally intended, with an all African-American cast, including Gwen Stewart, LaQuet Sharnell, Eric B. Anthony, E.Clayton Cornelious, Nikkieli DeMone, Bobby Daye and Gayle Turner. 

As in the Frank Baum story, the plot surrounds a little girl named Dorothy (Sharnell) who is caught in a tornado in Kansas and blown to the land of Oz.  Along the way, she meets and befriends the Scarecrow (Anthony), the Tin Man (Cornelious), and the Cowardly Lion (DeMone). They venture through the dreamscape, urged on by the good witch Addaperle (Stewart, who also plays the wicked witch Evilline) to see the Wiz (Daye), who must certainly still have three or four miracles left in him.  All Dorothy wants is to go home to Kansas to see Aunt Em (Turner, who also plays the good witch Glinda). 

The story may be familiar, but this isn't your grandfather's Wizard of Oz.  The real stars of the show did their work before the curtain rose.

Mark Stuart, as choreographer, brought down the house. The dance was fresh, brilliantly performed, and highly athletic, putting us in mind of the Alvin Ailey dance company.  The 'yellow brick road' was innovatively portrayed by four modern dancers.  In our view, the choreography was the best thing about a show for which there was a lot to love.

Donna Drake, who directed Chicago last year, was the director for the Wiz, and her style gives equal weight to song and dance.  It was a brilliant, colorful dance concert that happened to contain a storyline and a bit of singing.

But that's not really fair to the singers, either, all of whom were powerful and brilliant. 

And still there's move to love.  Cornelious' portrayal of the Tin Man was hysterically funny; DeMone as the Lion was tender and loving; Daye's fabulous tent revival meeting in the Emerald City was stirring, and Sharnell and Anthony capture everything that is sweet and innocent about children on the knife edge of growing up.

And there's a little dog, too! What's not to like?

Go. See.  This is possibly the best version of The Wiz we have ever seen, and it's not to be missed. 

The WIZ plays until August 27 at the Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin campus.  Visit www.msmt.org for ticket information.

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