BWW Review: Ease On Down to Kokandy's Joyous THE WIZ
Under the direction of Lili-Anne Brown, Kokandy Productions' staging of THE WIZ radiates joy, and at the performance I saw Saturday night, the audience was soaking up every single joyful moment. From my vantage point, I can say that the audience reaction comes from the satisfaction of watching a solid musical theater production that leans into the musical numbers and embraces this all-black version of the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ to milk it for every possible ounce of delight and vibrancy. All of the ensemble members onstage seem to be truly enjoying themselves, and that energy is undeniably infectious.
Arnel Sancianco's graffiti-laden set-with that trademark yellow brick road front and center-nicely sets the scene for the production, and Virginia Varland's fabulous costume designs make this Oz awash with bright colors. THE WIZ's ensemble is equally spirited, and audiences certainly won't be disappointed with this production's rendition of the famous "Ease On Down The Road." Breon Arzell's choreography is playful and inventive, and while it's not the most complex I've seen, the ensemble lovingly leans into the moves. The eight-piece band also supplies ample musical energy.
In terms of vocals and acting, this WIZ is also quite enjoyable. Sydney Charles gives us a Dorothy for whom it would be impossible not to root, and her performance of the 11 o'clock number "Home" duly brought down the house. As her right-hand men, Gilbert Domally as Scarecrow, Steve Perkins as the Tin Man, and Chuckie Benson as the Lion form a delightful rapport, and it is always fun to watch these four actors together. Benson in particular owns every moment he appears on stage as the Lion; his "cowardly" mannerisms are just right. Frederick Harris also provides delicious and outsized comedy as the flamboyant Wiz, and Nicole Michelle Haskins is convincingly wicked as Evillene (she also doubles as Auntie Em). All the members of THE WIZ'S ensemble add to the production's lively atmosphere. Overall this WIZ is downright celebratory; we could all use some of the cheer and vibrancy that are in ample supply here.
Kokandy's THE WIZ plays through April 16 at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont Avenue. Tickets are $33-$38. For more information, visit KokandyProductions.com.
Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow