With its themes of home and believing in yourself, The Wiz is an easily likeable, pop-music-fueled good time over at the Hobby Center. TUTS’s production is a kaleidoscope of candy colors backed by powerful vocals and wildly infectious songs. This is the kind of show where, if you’re having a bad day when you walk into the theater, you’ll come out wondering what was getting you down.
When The Wiz premiered on Broadway in 1974, it was a straight-up revelation—as well it should’ve been. The retelling of the Wizard of Oz story featuring an all African American cast combined the rhythms of disco, gospel, R&B, and soul on its way to win seven Tony awards (the only major category it lost was for its book, by William F. Brown, which is tissue-paper thin). Here was a show that showed people of color not only in starring roles, but all over the stage. It brought the strains of popular music from the radio into the theater—and sent them right back out onto the radio once more, with “Ease On Down the Road” being a Top-40 hit, landing at No. 1 on Billboard’s Disco File in 1975. The show went on to be adapted into a movie starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in 1978.
TUTS’s production takes all that excitement and tosses it onto the stage in an explosion of empowerment and energy. It’s the story of daydreaming, 13-year-old Dorothy, whose head-in-the-clouds distraction runs afoul of her Aunt Em’s more straight-laced expectations. When a cyclone rips through her Kansas town, she’s swept away—literally—to the Land of Oz, where she learns if she wants to make it back home, she better get herself off to the Emerald City to see the all-powerful Wiz, a woman who’s said to be capable of incredible feats. Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion, all of whom are seeking their own prizes from the Wiz: brains, a heart, and courage. (Spoiler alert: All will discover that those are not things people can give you).
Salome B. Smith is a winning Dorothy, all wonder and style, with a great set of singing chops. Christopher Campbell, who was engaging as Will Parker in TUTS’s recent, triumphant Oklahoma!, dazzles as the Scarecrow, sliding, shuffling, and shimmying across the stage. Paris Nix’s Tin Man is charming, and Allyson Kaye Daniel’s Lion nearly steals the show, with pitch-perfect comedic timing and a ringing voice. Yvette Monique Clark, doing triple duty as Aunt Em, Evillene, and Glinda, rocks the house with her rich, belting vocals; Evillene’s Act Two “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” is close to show-stopper. And Marva Hicks as The Wiz brings bravado and vulnerability.
Jason Sherwood’s sets are pretty spare, with the occasional chaise lounge sliding in and out, but the multimedia projections fill in the blanks nicely. The cyclone segment is particularly fun, with everything from dresses to picket fences to the show’s Playbill seen flying on screen. The bursts of fire that show up on the projection are kind of campy, but overall, the effect is better than nothing. Dede Ayite’s costumes are a wonder, especially for the ensemble. Whether it’s pulled-up parachute-looking material on the munchkins or multiple shades of green on taffeta, chiffon, silk, and all manner of Steampunk splendor on the residents of Oz, they are a glorious rainbow of creativity.
Robert O’Hara directs with bright efficiency, the ensemble moving briskly through each encounter. And Darryl G. Ivery’s musical direction is spot-on, bringing to life that makes-you-want-to-dance score.
In all, The Wiz is a fun outing, a fantasy of hope and a reminder of what happens when we help others find who they are and what we gain when we believe in our own best abilities.
Thru Nov. 4. Tickets from $30. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St. 713-558-8887. More info and tickets at tuts.com.