Monday, September 5, 2011

"The Wiz" reviewed

Finding a new way to tell an old story is never easy.
The Afterthought Theatre Company’s production of “The Wiz” tackles the challenge on two fronts, starting with the reimagining of the landmark 1974 Broadway musical.
Of course, the foundation of the musical – and subsequent film – was L. Frank Baum’s 1900 fantasy book, “The Wizard of Oz.” In this telling, a funky soundtrack and a more modern aesthetic become updates to the basic tale of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and a host of witches, fairies and talking flowers.
For all its updates, the story remains frenetically fantastical, as Dorothy makes the journey from her home in Kansas to the magical realm of Oz via a twister. “The Wiz” still centers on the four friends, and the combination of Faith Angelise-Goins as Dorothy, Terence Elison as the Scarecrow, Curshion Jones as the TinMan and TJ Hogle as the cowardly lion offer enough chemistry to carry the tale into a contemporary framework.
The Afterthought’s production adds plenty of energy and musical chops to the source material, boasting strong vocal performances from the principal cast and the supporting players. As the first musical to hit the Dayton Street stage since the Shadow Theatre Company’s production of “Smokey Joe’s Café” in 2009, the show is a welcome reminder of the theater’s acoustic potential.
In addition to strong duets between the principal actors (“Be A Lion” is a particular highlight), the score succeeds on guest performances from Stephanie Hancock as Evillene and Mary Louis Lee as Glinda.
While the show’s soundtrack takes advantage of the theater’s space and dimensions, other elements of the production seem a bit too small. The 135-seat auditorium may be on the smaller end of local houses, but the show’s effects, set design and scope often feels too slight. Glenn Grassi’s set fails to fully convey Dorothy’s journey from the fields of Kansas to the surreal landscape of Oz. Actors clad in yellow stand in for the yellow brick road, and while the creative effort is endearing, any real sense of escape is lacking.
Still, the piece finds its compass in the energy and earnestness of its principal cast. Jones gives the TinMan a fresh sense of swagger, Hogle balances his gargantuan frame with a real sense of vulnerability and Elison’s Scarecrow is thoughtful and pensive about his lack of a brain. Angelise-Goins gives Dorothy a compelling sense of energy. The four friends offer a convincing sense of camaraderie, a chemistry that helps make an old story seem new.
Two and a half stars out of four

The Afterthought Theatre Company’s production of “The Wiz” will run until Sept. 24 at the Dayton Street Theatre, 1468 Dayton St. Tickets start at $20. Information:

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