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Broadway Touring Revival (1984)


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Variety (May 30, 1984) Maybe it's too soon for a Broadway revival of The Wiz. The touring production of the black musical treatment of The Wizard Of Oz has done well on the road, but looks unlikely to pull sizable business at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre, where it opened Thursday (24).

Although The Wiz overcame mixed notices in 1974-75 and went on to win seven Tonys and pile up a 1,672-performance run, it was never a timeless musical. The novelty of setting a gospel ñ rhythm & blues score to the classic fable, anachronistic but enjoyable black idiom, gaudy and imaginative costumes and several sparkling performances made the original "Wiz" seem fresh and fun.

That's not true of the undercast and wanly performed revival. Original femme lead Stephanie Mills, who eased on down the road to recording stardom, has a powerful voice and the right spunky waiflike quality for the role of the tornadotossed young girl who lands in Oz, but the other featured roles mostly are performed weakly. There's a forced and tired feeling to this production and it never ignites.

Geoffrey Holder's splashy costumes remain superior and eye-grabbing creations and the George Faison choreography, while technically trite, retains its snappiness. The Charlie Smalls songs are lively but too soundalike, with the exception of the insistently bookish "Ease On Down The Road" and the mawkish 11 o'clock ballad, "If You Believe."

A years-later viewing of The Wiz reinforces the impression that it's essentially a grandiose children's show, a novelty rather than a fully satisfying entertainment. Without superior performances in the key roles of the Tin Woodsman, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow, which it doesn't get here, it's a long evening.

Carl Hall, who took over the title role during the original run, has a good voice and acting authority, and Ella Mitchell, another veteran of the original, makes the most of the Wicked Witch role and her big gospel number, "No Bad News." Ann Duquesnay isn't exciting enough vocally as the Good Witch.

The Peter Wolf scenery is appropriately garish, Paul Sullivan's lighting is striking and, as noted, Holder's costumes are exceptional. But it looks as if The Wiz is a "was" for Broadway. Humm.