Dancing tornados. Pop-modern munchkins. And a traffic-light color collision in Emerald City that will blow you away. Think you know Oz? Think again! Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore has got Dorothy and all her friends like you’ve never seen them before in this twister of a tale, The Wiz. The slippers might be silver and there might be three witches this time around but you’ll meet all the familiar faces along the way in this electrifying and riveting performance packed to the brim with energy. Directed by Kevin S. McAllister with Musical Direction by Cedric D. Lyles, this super colorful production will leave you boogying right in your seat!
A more brilliant selection of outrageous costumes you will not find anywhere else. Costume Designer Lawrence B. Munsey gives us razzle, dazzle, and more in these wildly fascinating whimsical outfits. Coordinating a full ensemble of emerald awesome for the entry scene to Oz is no small feat, but add to that a quick shift into vivacious ruby red and another lightning quick transition into the most gorgeous shades and shapes of gold lamè, glitter, sequins, and glitz you’ve ever seen and you’ve got the mastery that Munsey brings to the stage. Even the munchkins have funky threads, bright blues and yellows that draw your eye straight to them, accented with even funkier knee-high striped socks.
The Pièce de résistance? A true split between good and evil, torn between the sassy red vinyl dominatrix outfit for Evillene and the chaste purity gown of flowing angelic white, complete with rhinestones and feathers, worn by Glinda. Munsey brings the wonderful world of whimsy and color, fun and fantasy to sensational life in these epic designs; a deal that truly makes the show.
The driving force of the infinite energy this show provides comes directly from Choreographer Shalyce Hemby. The modern aerobic workout she infuses into her dance routines are beyond sensational; so much so that there aren’t nearly enough words to describe how work and rhythm intense they are. Executed with flawless perfection these high-powered upbeat, fast-paced dance routines surge through the show like a shockwave. Hemby’s high-stepping frantic shuffling routine for “Ease On Down The Road” is pumped full of spirit and a contagious energy that infects everyone nearby, audience included. Each rendition of this dance number grows exponentially in its intensity, adding a new face every time until there’s a powerhouse of performers dancing their hearts out like it’s going out of style.
Hemby showcases a broad knowledge of how to choreograph a large number of people into fully charged high-energy numbers without compromising the aesthetic beauty of perfect synchronization amid the chaos and fun of a super-powered routine. A blast of sunshine rockets out to the audience during “Everybody Rejoice,” making it one of the most involved and intense numbers of the production. Hemby’s routines for individuals should be mentioned as well, between the articulate way she fuses ballet into the twisting tornado routine — limbs torn asunder like trees in a storm — and the insane Yellow Brick Road Dancers (Ana King and Parris Lacey) that never miss a chance to dance about, Hemby’s work is the most intense and focused choreography to hit Toby’s stage.
An ensemble of munchkins, who double, triple, and quadruple in a plethora of other roles, this cast brings a powerhouse of voices for songs like “He’s The Wiz” and “Everybody Rejoice.” Ensemble member Scean A. Flowers gets a chance to showcase his mighty voice during the sunshine parade that he leads out of Evillene’s lair, and keep an eye out for his zany acrobatic flips during several of the ensemble dance numbers.
It wouldn’t be an epic fairytale without magical denizens, like witches, and it just so happens that this production has three. Addaperle (Shayla Lowe) the lesser known witch of the north has a weathered comic edge to her character and looks a little like the urban bag lady joined the circus. With her electric blue afro and a trick up her sleeve, Lowe gives us a solid sound in her solo “He’s The Wiz,” leading the Munchkin’s to glory in this fun-filled number. Lowe will pierce your ears with a shriek and zap you with a zinger, a classy comic gem rolled up in layers of whacky fabric as crazy as her character.
The forces of good and evil comes to a head in Evillene (Kelli Blackwell) and Glinda (Crystal Freeman.) Blackwell is a ferocious force not to be messed with, scaring the pants right off you with that tenacious belt in “No Bad News.” She struts her stuff like she’s the queen of badass and she knows it. Playing the polar opposite with a righteous pure sound to her character is Crystal Freeman. A river of sheer angelic beauty flows from her voice in “Believe In Yourself (Reprise.)” The pair could not be more opposite but both are stunning singers with voices strong enough to rip the roof right off the theatre.
And then there’s The Wiz (Jonathan Randle.) All smoke and mirrors with some gaudy green threads and a haughty attitude. Randle puts a handle on arrogant when he rocks onto the scene for “So You Wanted To Meet The Wizard,” If you’ve never been kissed by lightning you’ll be burning up by the end of his solo, because despite the cocky attitude his voice is solid gold. But there’s more than vapid narcissism to this character, Randle eases into an almost humble version of the magician during “Believe In Yourself,” another sensational showcase of vocal prowess in this production.
Dorothy collects a band of ragtag characters all along the way. But none quite so feisty as Scarecrow (Bryan Daniels). His body is possessed by the beat for “I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday,” giving the audience a good deal to laugh about while tapping their toes along to the song. Daniels’ voice is as limber as his body; every note heard loud and clear even as he tumbles, stumbles, and splits his way through songs. Every inch of him is animated, particularly his face, and these uproarious animations match up with his wild-dude attitude.
To temper such a crazy character comes the man with no heart, Tinman (Marquise White.) With a passionately soulful voice, White jazzes up the number “Slide Some Oil To Me,” the whole song becoming one smooth dose of sublime. And by the end of “To Be Able To Feel” you’ll wish you didn’t have a heart because White breaks your heart with his desperate longing and mournful agony of how he wishes he could feel. A stunning juxtaposition of comedy and true deep feeling are crafted into this role and White nails it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Lion (Tobias Young) literally roars onto the stage with a tenacity that practically bowls the audience over. But it is quickly unveiled that Young’s character is little more than a mere pussycat, though certainly a screaming prima donna. Young brings a hysterical element to the character taking his moments of sheer terror and drama to the highest height of melodrama that can be achieved in a furry costume. He’s mastered the act of being a diva but he really belts out a powerful soulful sound for “Lion’s Dream.” He’s the cat’s meow if ever there was one.
And then we come back to sweet little Dorothy (Ashley Johnson). A stunning performer with a phenomenal voice that reaches the heavens and beyond, Johnson has the most powerful and absolutely amazing voice in the entire cast, which is saying quite a lot as this cast is packed with Broadway quality voices. The fact that she can so easily blend the childlike innocence of Dorothy’s character with her mature blasting vocals and create the epitome of musical theatre perfection in her performance will leave you awestruck. Johnson is silly and playful, her hints of naiveté mingling politely with her simple Kansas upbringing, all blown away in a cyclone every time she sings. “Soon As I Get Home,” and “Be A Lion” are two of her more breathtaking numbers, both letting the audience hear the true power of her voice, but none so amazing as her finale solo “Home.” Johnson is an energetic dancer, often leading the “Ease On Down The Road” routines, and her physical expressivity gives Dorothy an honest depth.
My suggestion is that you ease yourself on down the road and pick up some tickets to The Wiz – this emerald extravaganza before a cyclone blows through and whips it all away.
Running Time: Approximately Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
The Wiz plays through June 2, 2013 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore— 5625 O’Donnell Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 649-1660, or purchase them online.