Opening almost a half a century ago, in 1974, The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is a fun evening based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum. Featuring a rock, gospel, and soul music score by Charlie Smalls and book by William F. Brown, usually cast with an all African American cast, The Wiz is a whimsical, yet funky, take on the classic American story. Newcomer to the Washington stage, ANKH Repertory Theatre with The Finest! Performance Foundation, Inc., and The City of Gaithersburg joined forces with Director Kelly Chauncey bring new life to the Arts Barn this month with their production of the Tony Award-winning Best Musical.
The night started off with Jasmine Prather (Aunt Em) and Tyrone Lyles Sr.’s (Uncle Henry) emotional rendition of “The Feeling we Once Had,” which gave me gave me goosebumps. Prather had me in awe again in the closing number, “Believe in Yourself.” She is definitely a new artist to watch for in the future.
The choreography by Kelly Chauncey and Kashi-Tara was also creative and fun in the Arts Barn’s small and intimate space. One of the best numbers was the “Tornado Ballet” which was unfortunately not seen very well in the dark. You could still see enough through the ambient light to know these dancers had great dancing skills, so kudos to them for keeping it moving. The poppy dance to the song “Poppie Field” was also a standout and provided some of the more laugh-out-loud moments featuring the Lion (Robert E. Person).
Some of the other exceptional performances of the evening were from the Tin Man (Kashi-Tara), the Cowardly Lion (Robert E. Person), Addaperle (Meghan Wright), Evillene (Miriam Bowden), and the Yellow Brick Road, played by Dashyad Moten.
Kashi-Tara played a traditionally male role with ease. Her rendition of “Slide Some Oil To Me” was soulful and fun to watch.
Person’s Lion was a joy! He is clearly one of the seasoned vets of the cast, and he eased through his rendition of “(I’m a) Mean Ole Lion” with great energy and effortlessly had the audience in the palm of his paws with his performance. His beautiful costume (by Karen Rawlins) perfectly enhanced his performance and character.
Megan Wright played the Good Witch of the North, Addaperle. She had a soothing voice and played the kooky witch with charm. Her “dance moves” added some amusing moments through the show, and won the audience over.
Dorothy was played by Linae’ Bullock and the Scarecrow by Monisha Robinson. Bullock had a beautiful and the ballad “Soon as I Get Home” was lovely. However, in “Home,” her voice was extremely overpowering and we lost the lyrics. This was also due to the use of microphones in a very small theater, as the singing was over-amplified and, at times, very unpleasant to listen to.
Robinson was very animated and did a fine job with “I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday.”
The set design by Jeff White and Kelly Chauncey was simple, but had some interesting elements like the cloth-like fire caldrons for Evillene’s home, and the intricate mask for the Wiz that spewed smoke. Karen Rawlins’ props and costumes deserves special praise, she used everything at her finger tips to design a very complicated show on a new production company budget and did so with a great amount of imagination and flare. The costumes of Evillene, the Lion, and the loveable munchkins were terrific.
The back of the house for the characters to enter through was interesting, but sometimes that lead to very long scene changes in the dark with no music, which tended to cut off the momentum of the show, and the momentum that was built up from the previous scene and the energy of the performance suffered.
This is not for lack of effort, for rarely have I ever witnessed a harder working ensemble. This group really put their all into this performance and it showed. A special nod to ensemble member Zorah Love of the “Mouse Squad.’ She was a very engaging young actress to watch.
The Wiz was a fine first collaboration for ANKH Repertory Theatre, Finest! Performance Foundation Inc., and The City of Gaithersburg. I look forward to seeing what they do next.