Sinclair Community College delivers an incredibly appealing production of composer Charlie Smalls and librettist William P. Brown’s Tony Award-winning 1975 musical “The Wiz.”
A delightfully soulful retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” “The Wiz” presents a refreshing African-American spin on the universal tale of friendship, self-discovery and inner strength. Thankfully, director Chris Harmon doesn’t shy away from embracing the plentiful R&B vibes permeating nearly every inch of the peppy, marvelously tuneful material performed by an over 40-member cast. In fact, he astutely brings the music to the forefront by consistently placing the actors beyond the proscenium to perform at the edge of the stage and also having them occasionally venture into the aisles for greater immediacy. Harmon also enjoyably spoofs the show’s ‘70s sensibilities. When the smooth grooves of “A Rested Body is a Rested Mind” particularly arises late in Act 2, a group of male dancers (dressed in hip period attire by costumer Kathleen Hotmer) channels “Saturday Night Fever” and recalls the satiric savvy of the hilarious Broadway musical “Xanadu.” By and large, this “Wiz” doesn’t take itself too seriously which certainly keeps spirits high and the laughter contagious.
As the innocent, impressionable Dorothy, the lovely Vanae Pate brings an introspective sweetness to her fine solos (the stirring “Be a Lion” is beautifully motivating) and an engaging sense of wonder overall. Even so, she also understands the importance of not having Dorothy be a pushover as she comprehends and navigates her new surroundings. Naman Clark (Scarecrow), Brennan Paulin (Tin Man) and David E. Brandt (Lion) shine individually and collectively. Brandt particularly offers a breakthrough performance geared toward the Lion’s idiosyncrasies and insecurities with a slick New Jersey salesman persona thrown in for good measure. Sha-Lemar Davis is a bundle of energy and sass as the kooky Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North. The feisty, vocally strong Samantha Wright-Norman, clad in fiery red, wonderfully dominates as the larger-than-life Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West. As Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, Anna Masla charms with beguiling delicacy and vocal passion while rendering the gorgeous ballad “Believe in Yourself.” Malcolm Walker, mesmerizing in the rousing, gospel-driven “Y’all Got It!,” exuberantly embodies the eccentric, intimidating titular role accented by clever shades of Bob Fosse and James Brown. The cast also features Shaun Diggs as the Gatekeeper, Erin Waldon as Aunt Em, Nabachwa Ssensalo as the Kalidah Queen, Maegan Lopez as Lord High Underling, and the cutely cohesive Yellow Brick Road comprised of André Tomlinson, Bryana Bentley, Greyson Calvert, and Rebecca Henry.
In addition, choreographer Rodney Veal expertly creates flavorfully retro routines with contemporary flourishes. The uplifting, liberating “Everybody Rejoice” is a lively, toe-tapping standout, but the terrific inclusions of Stivers School for the Arts dancers as the Tornado, Poppies and Winged Monkeys and the South Dayton Dance Theatre troupe as the Emerald City Dancers are added benefits. Music director David McKibben, scenic designer Terry Stump’s scaffolding set, Gina Neuerer’s vibrant lighting design, and Dr. Kenneth Kohlenberg’s excellent 17-piece orchestra are also noteworthy elements of this truly entertaining showcase. From now until Saturday consider Sinclair your prime ticket to Funkytown.
“The Wiz” continues through Oct. 17 in Blair Hall Theatre of Sinclair Community College, Building 2, 444 W. Third St., Dayton. Performances are Thursday at 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Act One: 80 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors with the exception of the special Throwback Thursday performance (which will be American Sign Language interpreted) when all seats cost $10. For tickets or more information, call Sinclair Box Office at (937) 512-2808 or visit www.sinclair.edu/tickets.