THE WIZ - Hollywood Pantages Theatre

Reviewed by Michael Edwards

The Los Angeles Pantages Theater opening of THE WIZ offers up a dazzling GenZ revival of the classic 1975 production. Though time and place may have kept the original works' cultural impact locked away somewhere in the hearts of those lucky enough to experience the original, this updated version still manages to serve up magical moment after magical moment with its undeniably powerful cast of singers and performers.

Based on the Wizard of Oz by Frank L Baum, "The Wiz" was originally adapted  in the early 70's by William F. Brown with a score by Charlie Smalls that includes such R&B hits as "Ease on Down the Road" and "Home." This current version, with book once again written by Brown but with the additional writings of Amber Ruffin  and directed by Schele Williams is a self-aware, liberally edited version of the classic story with a focus on bridging the gap between the old sentiments behind each and every canon song from the classic, and the new demands and diverse presence of our current and evolving social culture. In short, this production appears to be an experiment in testing whether the 'heart' of "The Wiz" can continue to beat in today's world. 

The story is almost as old as America itself. Dorothy, an orphan living with her Aunt, complains about her life at home and is quickly swept away by a twister to Oz where she is immediately begins her desperate quest to try to get home, which she can only do by helping others which she does before finding out she was always able to get home and was never lost. Everyone knows this story. Apparently, very aware of this, this version of The Wiz focuses its energy on the nostalgic effect of the notable or classic musical numbers the play is known for leaving the plot and all other elements in a distant second. Highpoints of this production include Melody A. Bett's 'Aunt Em' singing, "Feeling We Once Had" (a grounded and passionate gift of an opening number).  Ms. Bett further delivers as "Evaline the Witch" with a showstopper rendition of "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.": Nichelle Lewis' Dorothy is a technical marvel. Ms. Lewis brings the house down with every number she sings, including her finale 'Home.' Her, at times, modest spirit being the only drawback to an otherwise magnificent performance: Avery Wilson's Scarecrow is a natural charmer; Kyle Remar Freeman's 'Lion' is fun and great to watch; Phillip Johnson Richardson's 'Tinman' is a soulful scene stealer: Deborah Cox as Glinda The Good Witch is a magical treat; As well The Wiz himself, Wayne Brady does not fail to deliver his brand of magical wit and surprisingly funky dance moves. 

The chorus of dancers and supporting singers are top tier and fun as they carry the weight of perhaps one too many transitions, but the overall design (Hannah Beachler) and consistently clever projection design (by Daniel Brodie) and movement (Jaquel Knight choreography) of the show is fast and light on its feet.  

The Wiz is an African American...Or just plain American classic. With respect to the lasting importance of the music and respect for the premiere moment of that summer in 1975 on Broadway, this production offers a magical night of classic, nostalgic theater.

The Wiz continues at the spectacular Hollywood Pantages through March 3.

Posted By DH Magazine on February 15, 2024 03:33 pm | Permalink