Original Broadway Production (1975)


The Wiz

John Simon
New York Magazine (January 27, 2024) When a piece of fluff has done very well as a children's, book, and better still as a movie musical, it is pushing one's luck rather hard to expect it to work yet again with different music on the stage. The Wiz, a black musical based on The Wizard of Oz, is, I regret to say, but a shadow of its former selves. I suppose that if you begin with a score and lyrics like those by Charlie Smalls, your cause is already well lost, but the producer, a disk jockey named Ken Harper, compounds his, errors with a book from the pen of William F. Brown, which cannot make up its feeble mind whether to adher to L. Frank Baum's innocence or opt for with-it gags, jive talk, and occasional Yiddishisms, and what little impact might have been achieved in either direction is dissipated in a Brownian movement.

The sets by Tom H. John are about as magical as card tricks performed by a sufferer from Parkinson's disease, and Geoffrey Holder's costumes, though mildly amusing, lack genuine style. The choreography is ascribed to George Faison, the direction to Holder, though there are rumors of dispute about who should be credited with what. Frankly, I can see nothing arthe staging worth contending over and what is good in the choreography is neither Faison nor Holder, but warmed over Alvin Ailey. If there were nothing else to scuttle this production, there would still be the Dorothy of Stehanie Mills described as aged 15, probably an accidental metathesis for 51, which she looks. Besides being untalented and unappealing, she has a loud voice and no stage presence. Hinton Battle makes a pretty fair Scarcrow, Ted Ross is an engaging Lion, and the show has three winning witches in Clarice Taylor, Mabel King, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, the last of whom is also a stunner. As, the gatekeeper, Danny Beard gives one of the most inept performances I have ever seen in a ridiculously easy part.