Wednesday January 17th 2018

“The Wiz”

the-wiz-8882Highly Recommended **** Five years ago, Chicago added a new theater company to its large list of small companies seeking to bring quality theater to our city. The company- Kokandy Productions and their Mission Statement was ” to bring the reality of musical theater that tells complex and challenging stories, with a focus on contributing to the development of Chicago-based works, in our “store-front” community”. This company has been doing just that and now to celebrate their fifth anniversary, they are bringing Chicago an intimate staging of “The Wiz” with a book by William F. Brown and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. The title pretty much explains what this musical is about- “The Wizard of Oz” (movie) and the novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, but with a twist.

“The Wiz” is an “urbanized” version of the story that Frank Baum told the world back over 100 years ago. Instead of being in Midwestern Kansas, we are in a big city, in a housing project, and in this case, the project name is The Kansas apartments. In fact, the set (Arnel Sancianco) has signage that says Chicago Housing Authority, so this is like a “Cabrini-Green” but named “Kansas” allowing the story to follow THE story! The tale is treated more 20th century African-American culture. It has been several years since our area has had a production of this high energy musical. I think that last time may have been in Munster about five or so years ago. That was a solid production under the careful eye of Stacey Flaster, BUT on a much larger stage.TheWiz-1

This production, directed to sheer perfection by Lili-Anne Brown utilizes the small stage of Theater Wit far exceeding my expectations. With the added choreography by Breon Arzell and the high energy of this well-cast ensemble, I see a show that should get extended and possibly win several Jeff Awards. I think having a woman directing a show about a young girl, Dorothy (Sydney Charles is one amazing actress and what a powerful voice) who is now a project dweller, and gets blown away from her home to a new place, Oz. There is by the way, no dog, although the name Toto is mentioned (perhaps as a friend or area “dealer”) and upon her landing on and taking out the Wicked Witch, she gets a warm welcome, but to get back home, must meet with the “Great Oz” aka The Wiz!

TheWiz-7Along her path of “Keeping Down The Road”, she meets up with the Scarecrow (Gilbert Domally) who is seeking a brain, The Tin Man (Steven Perkins is dynamite in his portrayal) and of course, the cowardly Lion (Chuckie Benson has his character down perfectly). This quartet does make the meet with The Wiz ( an outstanding gem of a campy Wizard, played by Frederick Harris). There are several witches and while they are almost from the original story, their names and reps have been altered to citify and urbanize as well as modernize them. Glinda is portrayed by Anna Dauzvardis, Addaperle (another Good Witch) played with zest by Angela Alise and the Bad Witch, Evillene by the powerful Nicole Michelle Haskins (who also plays Aunt ‘Em to Harris’s Henry.

The ensemble is composed of some excellent singers/dancers, again with energy that will tire you out and yet, like the Eveready Bunny, they keep going and going and going- Breon Arzell (yes, the choreographer is also IN the show), Kyrie Courter, T.J.Crawford, Desmond Gray, Jyreika Evelyn Guest, DeJah Perkins, Tia Pinson and Michael Rawls- what a great cast! They do lots of quick costume changes (Virginia Varland and her crew did an outstanding job) changing characters and right back on stage. A dozen and a half players seemed like a cast of 40. The tech staff is also “right -on”. Alexander Ridgers (lighting), Meelah Heidenreich (props) and Michael J. Patrick along with Kirstin Johnson, handling the sound portions.

The orchestra placed above the stage area is  conducted by Musical Director Jimmy Morehad who also is magical at the keyboards. His band (as he likes to call them) are Adam Roebuck at trumpet, Beaushay Norton at trombone and at the drums, Scott Simon. The bass is handled by Mark Berls with the guitar being played by Kyle McCollough and the reeds are handled by Jay Gummert and Adam DeGroot. The songs are powerful and very major in the story-telling experience that has been created by Brown and Smalls. While many have been witness to the movie version (star-studded, to say the least) and have probably also see a Broadway In Chicago production or even at one of the regional theater company’s, the intimacy of this production by Kokandy is one that will make the meaning even stronger. The focus MUST be on “What it means to live with Intelligence (the Scarecrow), Compassion (the Tin Man) and of course, Courage (the Lion), in the touch inner-city projects . While many are gone, there are still many remaining symbols of a time long-gone, but not yet forgotten or out of mind for those who were raised (and might still live there). We learn quickly that going home is not really something Dorothy might want, except, her family and friends are all waiting for her there.TheWiz-6

“The Wiz” will continue at Theater Wit, located at 1229 West Belmont thru April 16th with performances as follows:

TheWiz-2Thursdays  8 p.m.

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  8 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

EXTRA performances: April 1  3 p.m.

April 5th 8 p.m., April 8th at 3 p.m. April 12th  8 p.m. and April 15th at 3 p.m.

Tickets run between $33- $38 ( a solid value for a show of this quality) and can be purchased at the theater box office, by calling 773-975-8150 or online at

Parking is available at Cooper’s on Belmont (dinners are reasonable and tasty there as well) or on the street (some metered, some not) and Valet parking is available.

To see what others are saying, visit, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Wiz”TheWiz-4


running time two-hours-fifteen minutes with a 15 minute intermission.

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