The Wiz eases down road with dazzling glitter
William A. Raidy
New Jersey Star-Ledger (May 25, 1984) That cyclonic musical version of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, which has been breezing its way, across America, is back on Broadway, where (to my surprise, I must admit) it won a Tony Award as best musical of 1975. While I never found Charlie Smalls', music the earful some others did, The Wiz is certainly an eyeful and this new production at the Lunt-Fontanne is a beauty.
The Wiz, directed by Geoffrey Holder, who also created the eccentrically sumptuous costumes, is half old style Folies Bergere (in its extravagant look) and half black camp (in its delightfully vernacular humor). If one doesn't please you, the other will.
Librettist William F. Brown's new ... and black ... look at L. Frank Baum's original Oz story has a charming ghetto sense of humor to it. And what gives this show its zest (despite all its intended vulgarity and high decibel shrillness) is George Faison's dances, which keep the show moving double time.
Half the production numbers have that "oh-hell-Iet's-make-it-splashy" feeling. They're not always quite relevant to the story (a little voodoo here, a little Folies Bergere farandole there) but the audience doesn't seem to mind a bit. Peter Wolf's scenery, from Kansas prairie to Emerald City, keeps the audience enthralled.
As I write this, I'm trying to figure out whether I have mellowed or The Wiz has. The musical seems far less loud and screechy than the first time around. (Maybe all of this is because I've sat through things like Dreamgirls, with all the sound pipes turned up).
While Stephanie Mills still holds forth as little Dorothy who gets blown away to the land of the Munchkins, I kept looking in vain this time for such old friends as Hinton Battle, DeeDee Bridgewater, Andre De Shields and Tiger Haynes. No matter, the new Oz folks, with Charles Valentino as Scarecrow, Howard Portter as Tinman and Gregg Baker as Cowardly Lion; all are first rate.
The Wiz is most: fun when it's being outrageous ... which is often. I'm fond of numbers such as "Funky Monkeys" and Ella Mitchell bellowing out: "No Bad News."
For the most part, I still have a bit of trouble "Easin' Down The Road" to Smalls' not always melodic music. It's more for the disco than the theater.
As usual, dear little Dorothy has a devil of a time getting out of Oz and both Brown and Smalls have a great deal of trouble, too. After the problems of Strawman's brain, Tinman's heart and Lion's courage are resolved and Dottie has discovered all she has to do is stamp her magic glitter shoes to get back o the cornfields, there's a long, monotonous bit of padding that seems to take forever.
"We all believe," I felt like yelling back at that big balloon, which took so long to get off the ground. "Let's get the show on the road." And once again, for such a spectacular beginning, The Wiz just sort of peters out at finale time.
The music, under the direction of Charles H. Coleman, often has a slightly plastic, hollow sound, as if a recording was playing in the background. But mercifully, neither Stephanie Mills nor her gang sound half as loud as last time around.
And for an incoming "touring show," this Wiz is grand to look at and the kids are bound to love everyone.