Original Broadway Production (1975)


Witty Wiz

Marilyn Stasio
Cue Magazine When L. Frank Baum dreamed up his, children's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he surely never had visions like the ones you'll see in this fantastic new musical. But Oz is whatever your imagination wants it to be, and a lot of talented, creative minds want it to be a trip to remember.

All the essentials of the beloved story of Dorothy and her friends are retained, but in William F. Brown's witty book, every familiar character and situation has been given a sly,hip, and very funny contemporary twist. The wicked witch is a big mean mama, and the Cowardly Lion gets himself distracted by some very unusual poppies. Baddest of all is the Wiz hisself, a dude who really got his act and his wardrobe together.

There's a lot of magic in Geoffrey Holder's production, and the most potent of it all is Charlie Smalls's dynamite music. The overall mood of it is joyous rock, with sweet excursions into gospel, blues, and even an old-fashioned ballad or two. Finely orchestrated by Harold Wheeler, the songs have the force of the tornado that blew Dorothy to Oz.

An extraordinary all-black cast makes each lavish musical number an event. At the top of this veritable heap of talent ñ let's hear it for Mabel King, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Hinton Battle, Andre De Shields (what a Wiz he is!), and veterans Ted Ross, Tiger Haynes, and Clarice Taylor stands ñ phenomenal Stephanie Mills, a 15-year-old wonder who plays Dorothy with sassy charm and a gigantic voice.

This is one musical where no creative element is played cheap. The costumes and sets are as dazzling the show's concept demands, and George Faison's non-stop choreographic inventions are the most exciting Broadway's seen in years. If you're wondering how a tornado can be choreographed...

...has breakneck energy, glamorous spectacle, and all the good humor of a circus. Maybe this isn't exactly the Wiz that wuz but it's the Wiz that is, and it's a wow.