Review: ‘The Wiz’ at Spotlighters Theatre by Sherri Chandler

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Originally opening in October 1974 at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore, MD, The Wiz, with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls, is a reimaging of Frank L. Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre (“Spotlighters”) production, directed by Tracie Jiggets, returned The Wiz to its Baltimore roots when it opened on April 7, 2017.

Justin Johnson (Scarecrow), J. Purnell Hargrove (Lion), Amber Hooper (Dorothy), and Shae Henry (Tin Man). Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

The book version of The Wonderful World of Oz was published in 1900, followed by a movie released in 1939; consequently, the plot is a familiar one.  Dorothy lives on the plains of Kansas. She is hit on the head during a tornado and wakes up in Oz.  Her desire is to return home, and she is directed to follow the yellow brick road to see The Wizard. Along the way, Dorothy makes friends and fights enemies. The Wiz updates the movie by changing the setting from the plains of Kansas to Harlem, NY, or – as in this production – to Baltimore, MD.

The set was designed by Alan Zemla and constructed by Fuzz Roark and they did an outstanding job utilizing the limited space available to create a set that accommodated all the scenes required, with seamless transitions. All available surfaces were incorporated into the set. The lighting design, by Al Ramer, effectively drew my attention to the areas of the stage being used. From the Yellow Brick Road to the poppy fields to the doors of Oz, nothing was missing.

Fuzz Roark’s costume design was beautiful. The thought he put into each costume is shown in the details. The Scarecrow and The Wiz’s jackets were amazing. The challenging work of the costume construction team, Karen Eske, Cheryl Robinson, and Sarah Watson, was appreciated.

The music direction was flawless; and the pit band members, Brandon Booth, William Georg, and Greg Bell performed the score beautifully. The performers’ rendition of “Ease on Down the Road” was exuberant. The song starts with just Dorothy and the Scarecrow, and as each member is added to the group, the tune takes on a life of its own. Emmanuel Moss’ Evillene) ‘‘No Bad News” was the exact right touch of mean and fun. “Home,” the final song in the show, sung by Amber Hooper (Dorothy), brought tears to my eyes.

It was easy to see that this cast is having a wonderful time in their roles. Amber Hooper’s Dorothy was delightful. Renata Hammond (Addaperle) was loveable and sassy. Justin Johnson (Scarecrow), Shae Henry (Tinman), and J. Hargrove as Lion, were all spot-on with their characterizations. The roles of Evillene and The Wiz require exaggerated performances and Emmanuel Moss (DDm) and Timothy David Copney, respectively, rise to the occasion.

Justin Johnson (Scarecrow), J. Purnell Hargrove (Lion), Amber Hooper (Dorothy), and Shae Henry (Tin Man). Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

Other cast members include Ebony Evans (Glinda), Tina James (Gatekeeper and Lord High Underling), Shaenia Stewart (Flying Monkey), Phoenix Averiyire (Munchkin #1), Neves R. Jones (Munchkin #2), and Sofia Raquel Esme D’Amsbrosi as Munchkin #3.

Though The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre’s venue is small, the cast made use of every nook and cranny. The cast utilized the audience as part of the production when they could. I enjoyed feeling like I was part of the show. If you have the chance, go and see this brilliant rendition of The Wiz at Spotlighters.

Running Time: Two hour and 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

 The Wiz plays through April 30, 2017, at Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre – 817 Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.

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Sherri Chandler is a blogger, poet, and host known as Simply Sherri. She performs all over the Mid-Atlantic region. She reviews movies and television but loves all forms of artistic expression.

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