Music and lyrics: Charlie Smalls
Book: William F Brown
Director: Robert Marsden
Reviewer: Natasha Hegarty
The Wizard of Oz has spawned many a spin-off, including the Broadway hit Wicked, but before that came The Wiz. Originally with an African American cast, the musical is a retelling of the classic tale we all know and love. The original 1975 Broadway production of The Wiz won musical seven Tony awards including Best Musical and five Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical. Following the success of the stage production, a film version was released starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in 1977. In essence the story is the same; Dorothy gets caught in a tornado and finds herself in another land, and desperate to get home to Kansas, she seeks the help of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. She still meets the brainless Scarecrow, the heartless Tin Man and the cowardly Lion, but in order for them all to receive the help they want, they must kill the Wicked Witch of the West.
This production is performed by Stage Experience from the Milton Keynes Creative Learning Department. It stars over 100 local youngsters aged between 10 and 21, and for a non-professional production it is a brilliant version of the musical.
The main leads are wonderful. Georgee Burn as Dorothy commands the stage and her acting is fantastic, and although the final song ‘Home’ feels slightly out of her range, she is a good choice for lead. Charlie Buckley as the Scarecrow steals the show with his comic timing and soulful voice, getting the most laughs from a delighted audience. Freddy Parkington as the Tin Man is perfectly cast, as is Duncan Boyes as the cowardly Lion.
Although this production of The Wiz isn’t a modern retelling of the story, there are a few modern references. For example, when guessing Dorothy’s name, the hilarious Addaperle (Rhiannon Boyd) checks Dorothy’s clothes label from Marks and Spencer, and the bottom of her shoes which are from Dorothy Perkins; a lovely touch well received by a delighted audience.
The choreography by Scott Ritchie is professional and energetic, while the ensemble works well together. ‘A Brand New Day’ with the whole cast is a particular highlight which has the audience clapping along. The lighting and set design was fantastic, pulling off the traditional urban setting without being overpowering. It forms a contrast with beautiful scenes including the green lights of the Emerald City and the stunning scene in the poppy fields, all topped off with costume designs by Donna Rice.
However, this particular performance wasn’t without its issues. The microphones cut out on a few occasions and some of the songs seem too big and soulful for the singers, while the orchestra sometimes overpowers the main singers. Also knowing the history of the production; it feels a little odd not having a full African American cast and could have been much slicker, but overall it is a good effort across the production.
The production is energetic with every cast member looking as though they are having the time of their lives, and it’s easy to appreciate the hard work which has gone into this production. Soulful music, full of fantastic dancing and wonderful acting, The Wiz is definitely worth a visit.
Runs until: Saturday 9th August