I have to admit I was looking forward to seeing the Wiz at the Wyly, for several reasons, of course there is the theater. The Wyly is fairly new theater, but it has quickly become my favorite place in Dallas to see a show. This theater has not put on a bad show yet. Secondly, the show stars Liz Mikel and Denise Lee, two of my favorite performers bar none. Finally, this show features what I consider one of the greatest songs Broadway has every produced, “Home”.
The Wiz, originally billed as a “Super Soul Musical” is an urban retelling of L. Frank Baums' The Wizard of Oz. Originally premiering on Broadway in 1975, it was innovative theater that was rewarded with seven Tony Awards. The Dallas Theater Center honors this legacy and takes it to the next level with innovations of their own.
This begins with the use of interpretive dancers as some of the major “characters” in its' production. The tornado that sweeps Dorothy out of Kansas and the yellow brick road are amazingly portrayed by members of the Dallas Black Dance Theater. The yellow brick road is portrayed by four men in bright yellow zoot suits. Love it. This is the first collaboration between the DTC and the Dance Theater and I hope it will not be the last.
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed in the set when I walked into the theater, but quickly found that it was because of surprises to come and a big stationary set was not possible. The audience was actually to become a part of the set and a part of this show in a way that I have never seen in theater.
Director Kevin Moriarty had the vision to take the audience into Oz with Dorothy and accomplished this with twelve movable seating “pods” that are pushed, pulled and twisted into various configurations at key points during the play. If you are in one of the front two sections in the theater. You will start the show at one vantage point, you will see the finale at that same vantage point, in between, all bets are off.
Another facet of this innovation is that much of the action takes place among the audience, in the movable “pods”. There is an amazing action sequence during which four pods are brought center stage and the action is literally up and down and through the audience. Brilliant.
Leading the cast into Oz is Trishina Jeffery as Dorothy, a role originated by Stephanie Mills on Broadway so she had very big ruby slippers to fill (though in the Wiz they are silver). She did a great job, but I found myself watching Liz Mikel and Denise Lee more than Jeffery during her finale of “Home”. They were both grinning like proud mothers at her belting out of this amazing anthem.
Watching Tyrone Lane as the Scarecrow was like watching Ben Vereen sing and dance on Broadway in his heyday. I was mesmerized by his performance. Sydney James Harcourt's Tin Man was a huge hit with the audience, especially his tap dancing through “Slide Some Oil To Me”. David Ryan Smith Steals the show with his over the top, dare I say a bit gay lion. I love that he wants to get his roots touched up before seeing the Wiz. While he was so funny his rendition of “(I'm a) Mean Ole Lion gave both me and the person I went with chills. Hassan El-Amin makes a brief appearance as Uncle Henry, but it is as the Wiz that he shines, especially singing “Believe In Yourself” setting up the message that we are to take home from this play, that we need to believe in ourselves and our dreams can come true.
While the entire artistic team deserves recognition here, I will highlight the costume designs of Wade Laboissonniere. I want Evillene's Head Piece for Halloween, please e-mail me for the address.
Finally, there are Denise Lee and Liz Mikel. I could listen to either of these women sing the phone book, and here neither disappoints. Liz Stops the show with her sassy, whip cracking “Don't Bring Me No Bad News” and Denise Lee is amazing singing “If You Believe”. While she sings this to Dorothy, there is a broader message for the audience. It is the message of not only the Wiz, but of the original. We have the power to achieve our dreams. We had it all along. But we spend to much time living our life giving into fear. This is a good message for all.
Once again, The Dallas Theater Center has put together an amazing production. The Wiz runs through August 7th. Tickets are $15 to $85. There is never a bad seat, as the Wyly is a small theater that seats 575 at it's largest, which it is not for this show. I would encourage you to order season tickets now for the 2011-2012 Season that includes Tempest, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Giant. Packages start at $45.00. More Information at www.dallastheatercenter.org
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