Fine Cast & Splendid Look in Wiz
New York Daily News Though neither the book nor the songs, and particularly the songs, do a great deal for The Wiz, which opened last night at the Majestic, this all-black version of L. Frank Baum's, children's classic The Wizard of Oz is so enormously good-natured, spectacular looking and slickly done that it is hard to resist.
Geoffrey Holder, who directed the book, has designed acres of fantastic costumes, and their magnificence, together with Tom H. John's fanciful scenery, make The Wiz the most stylish Broadway musical since Pippin.
Then, in a uniformly engaging cast, there are a Cowardly Lion and Wicked Witch of the West so delightful as to make you momentarily cast aside memories of Bert Lahr and Margaret Hamilton in the 36-year-old movie (the first stage musical came 36 years before the film).
Big Mama From the West
Mabel King, the Big Mama of a Wicked Witch, appears only in the first scene of the second act, being quickly disposed of by Dorothy and her friends, but she has a fine chance to bad-mouth her way into a shout song, "No Bad News," that is one of songwriter Charlie Smalls' more-effective pieces.
Ted Ross, though, is with us for most of the evening as a beaming, sashaying lion, all good-will and class and at his best romping with several pretty little poppies in the forbidden poppy field.
These and other robust performances are to be taken to our hearts. Stephanie Mills, the young Dorothy, asserts herself in song, the soulful thrust of her voice making much of the closing number "Home." And such soul sisters as Clarice Taylor's funky Good Witch of the North, Dee Dee Bridgewater's slinky Good Witch of the South and Tasha Thomas' Aunt Em are invaluable. And at, are Tiger Haynes' Tinman, Hinton Battle's Scarecrow and Andre De Shields' natty Wiz.
Furthermore, George Faison, who has staged the dances and all other musical numbers, has kept his charges, including a hunch of pretty girl dancers, in lively motion.
The songs are mostly dull, the lyrics commonplace and the music uninspired. Doubtless with this in mind, the songs have been juiced up in Harold Wheeler's orchestrations, which leave room for four supportive singers in one of the boxes, and they are flung at us over a defective, crackling sound system that has a way of dehumanizing' some of the voices.
William F. Brown's book has the primary purpose of couching the familiar story in jive talk, which allows for some easy jokes. It doesn't exactly twist the familiar story out of shape, but it doesn't enhance it either.
There is, too, a West Indian voodoo element about The Wiz that might have been carried further with profit. It is most strongly felt, of course, in Holder's splendid and imaginative costumes with their striking headdresses, but it also crops up in the cawing and screeching with which some of the dance arrangements end. Elsewhere, the effect sought after is less exotic, confining itself to city images, Harlem-based and consisting of smart black street talk and movement.
The music palls and the book is spotty, but The Wiz is a sight to behold and its people are wonderful.