Writer: William F. Brown
Music & Lyrics: Charlie Smalls
Director: Josette Bushell-Mingo
Reviewer: Laura Stimpson
The Wiz, an African-American, soul inspired musical adapted from the classic tale the Wizard of Oz by Frank L Brown certainly made its mark on Broadway in the 1970’s when it won seven Tony Awards, and was later made into a 1978 film with an all star cast. In this major revival, a West Yorkshire Playhouse and Birmingham Repertory Theatre collaboration, directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo, with Dorothy played by Treyc Cohen, transported not from Kansas, but Leeds to the magical world of Oz.
Dorothy, a school girl, is living with her Aunt and Uncle in Leeds, they have a flat screen TV and like the stereotypical teenager she didn’t want to help her Aunt around the house and spent lots of time on her mobile phone. After an argument with her Aunt she was transported to Oz. The rest of the story, as expected, takes us on a journey through Oz, the Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City to see the Wizard, played by Peter Straker, to kill the Wicked Witch, Evilene, played by Allyson Ava Brown and then she finds her way back home again, not by magic, but by believing in herself. Dorothy meets along the way a scarecrow, played by Wayne Robinson, a tinman, played by Horace Oliver and a lion played by Clive Rowe. The songs are very uplifting and well executed. The choreography by Paul J Medford is tight, effective and creates a high energy visual spectacular. Occasionally the acting is lacking in comparison to the singing, it almost feels that the cast are trying to deliver the lines as quickly as possible to reach to the next song. At times it feels like you are watching a pantomime, the grand entrances of the characters prompted clapping and cheering from the audience, there was an element of “she’s behind you” in parts.
The set, designed by Rosa Maggiora is versatile and very effective, this together with the impressive lighting design by Philip Gladwell transforms us from one world to another and works well to set the scene.
The cast are without exception, fantastic singers; Melanie la Barrie as Addaperle and Aunt Em stands out from the start, she has a powerful and versatile voice and plays the rôle of Addaperle with finesse and humour. When Wayne Robinson first appears as the Scarecrow from a tree, his voice wows the audience and he is consistently brilliant throughout. Horace Oliver gives an extremely convincing performance as the tin man, he moves incredibly well in character and has a great vocal range. Clive Rowe plays the rôle of the loveable Lion very well, singing with great ease while still portraying the inner fear of his character. And the question on everyone’s lips, does Treyc have the X factor? At times most definitely, she sings very well, especially in the final song “home”, her acting could improve, but as a musical debut performance she definitely holds her own among this outstanding cast, which is not an easy feat.
A special mention should be given to the extremely talented Leeds community ensemble, all of whom gave a high energy, professional performance throughout.
This is an enjoyable musical for all the family, at times the rushed lines and pantomime like performance detract a little but I’m sure the catchy tunes and exceptional singing will have people ‘Wiz’-ing back for more!