Review: ‘The Wiz’ at Ford’s Theatre

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Ford Theatre’s The Wiz, the Tony-Award-winning musical based on L. Frank Baum’s novel, will leave you enthralled, amazed, and bedazzled. The show is a cornucopia of colors, dancing, singing, sizzle, rhythm and blues, jazz, funk, and a touch of disco. The music was fantastic, thanks to a book by William F. Brown and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. Director Kent Gash has assembled a spectacular cast that has produced a smash.

The cast of The Wiz. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The handiwork of Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood was one of the brightest-shining stars in the show. Sherwood created a moveable set, consisting of scenery wagons and flown flats, that in Sherwood’s words, “spin and turn upside down.”

Another star of the show was the work of Dance Captain Jocelyn E. Isaac and Choreographer Dell Howlett, who created some of the spiffiest hoofing this side of Broadway. Music Director Darius Smith kept the various songs in perfect sync with the performers, and Projection Designer Clint Allen kept the story moving with a myriad of images projected on the walls and ceiling of the historic Ford’s Theatre (in existence since 1861).

A great production of The Wiz must feature a spectacular cowardly Lion, and Christopher Michael Richardson exceeded that description, especially with his entrance in the piece “Mean Ole Lion.” Richardson’s performance went from blowhard, to shrinking violet, to confident alpha male; after all Richardson played a Lion who sees an Owl rather than a shrink. He also excelled in the song “Be a Lion.”

Ines Nassara’s Dorothy brought a studied innocence to her role as a girl from Kansas, lost in a land called Oz. Nassara, a Towson University graduate, excelled in “Be a Lion” and “Ease on Down the Road.”

Scarecrow Hasani Allen embodied the limberness of a man made of straw. His opening number, “I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday,” which included prancing and pratfalls, was the very definition of entertainment.

The Wiz himself in this show was no kindly old man behind a curtain, but a Prince-like rock star, complete with a purple-sequined coat and a three-lensed pair of sunglasses. As played by Jobari Parker-Namdar, the titular Wiz was part preacher, part magician, and all dynamo.

The cast of The Wiz. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Kevin McAllister’s “Slide Some Oil to Me” as the Tinman was another spectacular entrance of a major character. McAllister’s highlight solo was “What Would I Do If I Could Feel.” McAllister was Helen Hayes nominated for Ford Theatre’s Ragtime.

Monique Midgette was fabulous in her three roles: evil-witch Evillene, Aunt Em, and Addaperle. She opened Act 2 spectacularly with “No Bad News.” Jaysen Wright excelled as the Wiz’s Gatekeeper, but also played Uncle Henry and Lord High Underling. Awa Sal Seka, as good-witch Glenda, soloed wonderfully in “Believe in Yourself.”

The supporting players wowed me as well. DeMoya Watson Brown excelled as a Tornado, using amazing dance moves. Daryl A. Spiers was diabolically good as the leader of the Winged Monkeys. The character of Dorothy’s dog, Toto was played by two dogs, Charlie and Rusty.

The marvelous ensemble, which played everything from a dancing yellow brick road to munchkins, was rounded out by Jonathan Adriel, Ashley D. Buster, Jade Jones, Da’Von T. Moody, Solomon Parker, Melissa Victor, and Tobias Young.

Costume Designer Kara Harmon created award-winning threads that defied description in their beauty, colorfulness, and variety: from good-witch Glinda’s African garb; to evil-witch Evillene’s candy-themed dress; to the Tinman’s silvery get-up; to the denizens of the Emerald City’s disco-costumes. Complimentary to Harmon’s costume work was the superior hair and makeup design by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas.

Gash, who once played Lion in a 1979 production of The Wiz in Pittsburgh, introduced many topical touches to the play, such as references to “Wakanda” (from the Black Panther movie), “Obama,” and jokes like “Siri, open the gates to the city!”

This show is one of the few I’ve seen, that earned a fully instant and spontaneous, wall-to-wall standing ovation. If you need further convincing to pay to go and see it, I’ll leave you with Gash’s words: “I’d love our audiences to leave the theatre full of warmth, loving their family members or whomever they’ve come to the theatre with, and most important, I want audiences to take away Dorothy’s spirit…her capacity for stepping out on faith.”

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

The Wiz plays through May 12, 2018, at Ford’s Theatre – 511 10th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (888) 616-0270, or purchase them online.