REVIEW: ‘The Wiz’ — a lively rendering sure to delight young and old

Dwight Leslie and Dennis Spears Paris Bennett in The Wiz Photo by Dan Norman

The kick-off of the Super Bowl experience in Minneapolis couldn’t stop the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) from packing the house for the opening night of The Wiz on Jan 26. Full of excitement and energy, CTC and Penumbra Theatre collectively delivered a five-star production of the award-winning show.

Under the direction of Penumbra’s Lou Bellamy, the two-hour show delivers an interactive theatrical experience, and encourages audience members to clap and sing along to familiar tunes like: “He’s the Wiz,” “You Can’t Win,” “I’m a Mean Old Lion,” and of course the well-known “Ease on Down the Road.”

Living up to its names as the Children’s Theater Company, the show was appropriate for all ages. The audience was filled with families and their young children having a family night out, as well as some older couples who came to enjoy the play.

Audience members could also hear the joyful encouragement of Bellamy as he cheered his cast on in the midst of the crowd, which is an honor in its own right given his contribution in the world of theater.

While most are familiar with the 1978 Motown rendition of the original 1975 Broadway production, the CTC and Penumbra decided to perform the original theatrical production.

Those that go to see this play shouldn’t expect to follow the story of the school teacher from Harlem, but rather a plot that mimics the original story of Dorothy from Kansas that must make her way through the Land of Oz in order to meet with the Wiz.

Along the way, Dorothy stops by New York’s Central Park and the zoo until she arrives at Harlem’s world-famous Apollo Theater to see the character the Wiz.

T. Mychael Rambo (center) plays The Wiz MSR News Online

Overall, the show was solid. Dorothy, played by Paris Bennett, delivered an outstanding performance. Playing the lead role, Bennett displayed great poise and exceptional vocal control in several songs. The cowardly lion, played by Rudolf Searles III, showed strong stage presence and seemed to naturally grab attention with movement and strong vocals. Both Bennett and Searles showed exceptional vocal range and truly commanded attention when they took center stage.

The show was also very funny thanks to the characters the Wiz, the Tinman, and the Scarecrow. The Scarecrow, played by Dwight Leslie, showed natural humor through the delivery of his lines. Leslie’s commitment to his role and interaction with fellow characters made it hard not to laugh.

The Tinman, played by local theater veteran Dennis W. Spears, drew laughs from his nonverbal commitment to character. Then, of course, there’s the Wiz, played by another local theater veteran, T. Mychael Rambo, who drew laughs through his vocal inflections.

But the true stars of the production who really stole the show for me were the three performers in the main ensemble cast: China Brickey, Raphael Dow III, and Liliana Felton.

Under the direction of Patdro Harris, these three collectively brought the infamous yellow brick road and tornado to life through choreographed moves.

The band, directed by Sanford Moore, should also be very proud of their contribution to the production. While they couldn’t see it, there were many in the audience dancing in their seats thanks to their soulful addition to the production.

The Wiz marks the first time that CTC and Penumbra Theatre have collaborated on a production, and based on the results, I hope they decide to work together again.

The Wiz will run at the Children’s Theatre Company until March 18. The Children’s Theatre Company is located at 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55404. For more information, visit www.childrenstheatre.org.

 

Khymyle Mims welcomes reader responses to khymylewrites@gmail.com.

For more on The Wiz, see Dwight Hobbes’ story here.