Broadway Touring Revival (1984)



John Simon
New York Magazine (June 4, 2023) Why should anyone want to revive a show as relentlessly slapdash, uninventive, and soporific as The Wiz, last yawned at here in 1975? There are three probable reasons. First, it is a harmless enough retelling (unless you consider wasted money and time harmful) of The Wizard of Oz, and may well amuse undemanding children and some undiscriminating adults. Second, it was a success in 1975, largely because of favorable notices owing to reason No. 3. Third, it is a black show, and it takes more nerve than most white reviewers have to knock an ambitious Broadway effort that is mostly by, and entirely about and with, blacks. (I consider this a patronizing open-admissions policy about as useful to the theater as it is to higher education.) So one such load of ennui per ennead is not enough, and The Wiz is back in 1984.

You might think that things here could not be much worse than they were in 1975, which would only prove your innocence about show business. True, the current revival looks just as tawdry (the sets are new, but no better; the other production values are the same, but worse for wear or repetition), yet the cast is emphatically inferior. Stephanie Mills looked too old and odd, acted too badly, and sang too coarsely for Dorothy back then; with much added time and practice, she has managed to heighten her deficiencies. The others are either new to their roles or were replacements for the original cast somewhere along the line, and are, without fail, worse than their prototypes, though Charles Valentino is a fair Scarecrow and Ella Mitchell a truly badass Wicked Witch.

William F. Brown's book sprouts a few mild jokes, and Geoffrey Holder's costumes are intermittently clever. Peter Wolf's scenery is real community-theater stuff, as are George Faison's choreography and Paul Sullivan's lighting. But the score by Charlie Smalls is not just bad, it is actually horrendous enough to make The Tap Dance Kid sound good. Holder's direction is uninspired; and if it is true as rumored that he contributed substantially to the choreography, he can share the blame for that. The noblest magic this Wiz could perform would be to make himself and his show disappear forthwith.