After Dark Magazine (March, 1975) The Wiz, the new musical version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, recently exploded on the stage of the Majestic Theatre with all the sparkle and flashy blatancy of a Fourth of July celebration. All-black, bright and sassy, Motown seemed to have come to Broadway in this production to show just how exciting a musical comedy could be. Full of wonderful, magical surprises, The Wiz is this season's first genuine musical hit, and brings to the Great White Way an enthralling and memorable score by Charlie Smalls, an irreverently funny and engaging book by William F. Brown, and an extraordinarily impressive cast, which includes the emergence of bright and shiny new star in the person of Stephanie Mills, who plays Dorothy.
There seems hardly any point in trying to compare this newversion with the 1939 Victor Fleming film classic of L. Frank Baum's story which starred Judy Garland. It is sufficient to say that The Wiz retains much of the charm and fantasy of the original film musical while it sophisticatedly shines with a hip and soulful veneer that acutely treads the thin line between travesty and excessive sentimentality.
This deft balancing act should largely be credited to Geoffrey Holder's fine direction and the striking abilities of the large cast, for beyond the shimmering pyrotechnics (a happy combination among Geoffrey Holder's extravagant costumes, Tom H. John's settings, and Tharon Musser's lighting designs), these are the strongest features of the show.
Seemingly unintimidated by the fact that they are tackling roles that had once been made memorable by such greats as Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, and, of course, Judy Garland, Ted Ross, Tiger Haynes, Hinton Battle, Andre De Shields, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Clarice Taylor, Mabel King (in a brief but zapping appearance), and Tasha Thomas infused the show with awesome vitality, a vitality that easily allowed us to suspend our cynical disbelief. One cannot, to be sure, sing the praises of Stephanie Mills enough, and this little bundle of dynamite, with a voice that will knock you for a loop, definitely seemsfated for stardom.
George Faison's choreography was energetic, and Harold Wheeler's lush orchestratiols were nicely implemented by the orchestra under the. direction of Charles H. Coleman.
Finally, The Wiz is a big, splashy, soulful rock happening that should attract many diverse groups to he Majestic Theatre. Hallelujah, baby, and right on!