Friday August 18th 2017

“The Wiz”

“The Wizard of Oz”, the family favorite story based on the book by L. Frank Baum, is what we call a “true Classic”. The movie version is for the most part an annual event on television during the holiday season, and theaters throughout the country do the stage version for their “theater for young audiences” in order to get young people to experience live theater. In 1975, a funky, witty adaptation by William F. Brown and music by Charles Smalls, opened on Broadway- it’s title, “The Wiz”, and it was the first large scale, big budget musical to feature an all African American cast. It was also made into a movie that was as star-studded a film as one could ever expect. I for one was not impressed with the movie version at all. I thought the show belonged on a stage where audiences can get the true feeling and the spirit of the beloved story told in another way. Many stage versions of played in the the Chicago area, one or two of special note, but the newest production, on stage now at Theatre at the enter in Munster Indiana ( just about 30 minutes from the loop) under the skillful eye of director /Choreographer Stacey Flaster is by far one of the best productions I have ever been witness to.

Over the years of watching her work on area stages, I have learned to look for new imaginative ways to see old classics and new interpretations. This is great vision on her part as she reads a script and ideas, all original, come into her head. It is easy to do a show following stage directions and re-choreographing the original work, but it is much more creative to the theater experience to see something bright and new, refreshingly new staging and Flaster is a pro in getting this done. The stage at Theatre  at the Center ( for those of you not aware) is an intimate one where the audience sits on three sides and the cast uses the full stage and the aisles to bring their story to life. Bill Bartelt’s unique set with levels and  a curtain ( most of the productions at this theater have no curtain) to hide the  city of Oz works, and the lighting effects ( Tim Fandrei) and sound ( Barry G. Funderburg) as well as costumes (Brenda Winstead) and wigs ( Kevin Barthel) along with the great props( Libby Fandrei) truly make for a wonderful theatrical experience- one that you will remember!

While all the technical pieces of the show and the wonderful music ( directed by William A. Underwood) with an orchestra composed of 6 members ( that give us the sound of twenty) it is the marvelous cast under Flaster’s direction that makes the evening so very special. Leading the cast as Dorothy is the lovely and delightful Adrianna Parson. The basic story is the same as Dorothy gets blown away a Tornado ( the Tornado ballet is a unique work in which through cast members carrying items that are flying in the wind and Dorothy is tossed and turned by a dancer playing the Tornado- There is no program credit, but I am pretty sure this was Chris Carter – this was a unique and wonderful moment in the theater and one worthy of watching. The three friends that Dorothy meets along her way to meet The Wiz are also very special performers-Darius Colquitt as the Scarecrow, Jesse Dean Stanford as The Tinman and one of Chicago’s favorites, James Earl Jones II as the Lion ( he is adorable and has one of the most powerful voices in town). Her witches are also a delight- Alexis J. Rogers as Addaperle ( great comic timing), Candace C. Edwards ( Glinda) and the powerful, scene stealing Feicia P. Fields as Evillene. What a powerhouse! Even when there was a little sound problem on stage, she made sure the audience was entertained through it all and a few even gave her a standing ovation for never missing a beat. Seeing her do her stuff is worth the price of a ticket alone.

There are not many memorable songs in the score. The best known song is “Ease on Down The Road”, but there are some marvelous numbers, “Believe in Yourself”,”Y’all Got It”, “No Bad News” and “Everybody Rejoice” (a Luther Van Dross addition to the score). The Wiz is played by another Chicago favorite, Dwelvan David and the  ensemble ( small in numbers, but huge in talent) is one that as I always say, makes this production what it is, one to be seen:

Vasily Deris,Marlon Washington, James Osborne, Chris Carter, N’Jameh Camara, Joelle Lamarre, Rebecca Pink, Reneisha Jone’ne Jenkins( who is also a part of the Yellow Brick Road duo), Danielle Davis and  John Pierce Taylor(the other part of the Yellow Brick road duo). These talented young people change characters and costumes on a regular basis and never miss a cue or a beat- they are the backbone of the musical, so I salute the ensemble- BRAVO!  Th’s is a wild evening of theater allowing us to use our knowledge of a classic tales and see it  transformed into a lively mixture of rock,gospel and soul music. “The Wiz” will continue at Theatre at the Center located at  1040 Ridge Road in Munster through August 7th with a performance schedule as follows:

Wednesday and Thursday afternoons at 2 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

Ticket range from $36 to $40 ( a super value for theater of this quality) and tickets can be purchased by calling 219-836-3255 or online at www.TheatreAtTheCenter.comwhere you can also check on some additional performances on selected Saturday afternoons and Thursday evenings

Plenty of  free parking  and low gas prices fro your return trip home.

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