Broadway Touring Revival (1984)


The Wiz is back ñ worse than ever

Clive Barnes
New York Post (May 25, 2023) There are some musicals you expect to see back on Broadway. And some you don't. The Wiz is one I didn't. Yet it came whizzing back to Broadway last night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater.

It even had its original 16-year-old star Stephanie Mills ñ who doesn't seem to have gotten older, simply worse ñ in its leading role. It originally opened at the beginning of 1975, and, despite mostly uncouraging notices ran on Broadway for 1672 performances.

That is a track record for the producers to ponder on ñ because I cannot imagine, although I could not know, that the notices are going to be any better this time around. Probably were I to be guessing worse. I could even envisage, savage.

The entire musical is based on L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which has been a standard children's story almost since its first publication in 1900.

A year later Baum himself made a theatrical adaptation of the piece, and there have been other stage versions. But it was in Victor Fleming's 1939 movie, starring Judy Garland as the little Kansas girl whisked away on a cyclone along the yellow brick road to the Land of Oz, that the story received what was really its definitive treatment.

The idea of the musical was to provide a musical mixture of rock, gospel and soul music, written by Charlie Smalls, who provided score and lyrics.

The Wiz is intended as a new kind of fantasy, colorful, mysterious opulent and fanciful. It was also obviously meant to be a fantasy for today very modern, a dream dreamed by a spaceage child.

The concept is perfectly good in theory but its practice is not made perfect. Small's music ñ vastly overamplified by the way ñ sounded oddly insistent and all to familiar. It had plenty of verve but lacked individuality.

Incidentally, I wrote the last five paragraphs in 1975. I feel that if producers can revive shows there is no reason why critics cannot revive notices.

However ñ and this is a whopping however ñ the show is not quite as good as it was in 1975. It has become cruder and cheaper.

The decor seems slightly different and it is now attributed to Peter Wolf, whereas it was by Tom H. John, but the overall image, as does the staging, remains that of Geoffrey Holder, who took over the whole show when it was on the road in 1974.

Ken Harper the original producer and Holder originally did wonders with the material ñ 1672 performances of wonders for a show that could so easily, and in a sense, so justifiably, have closed on its first night.

The new cast is not as good as the old cast. Even Stephanie Mills is not as good as Stephanie Mills, and even first time round she was scarcely great. In box-office terms, Yul Brynner she never was.

The others of the cast try hard in demanding circumstances. I admired them all particularly Carl Hall, a cheerfully vicious Ella Mitchell, and a glamorous Anne Duquesnay.

But is this a musical that needed a second time round on Broadway? On the other hand in musicals there is often another hand it got remarkably lucky on its first.