BWW Review: Virginia Stage Company and Norfolk State University Present a Supersized Production of THE WIZ
"Ease on down the road" to the Wells Theatre in Norfolk to see VSC's and NSU's enjoyable co-production of Charlie Smalls' and William Brown's THE WIZ. There are 50 performers, mostly NSU students, in the production at the Wells Theatre. While the large cast makes for a powerful sound in the historic theatre, it sometimes works to the detriment of the production.
THE WIZ is the energetic and urban reimagining of L. Frank Baum's classic story about Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion's journey down the yellow brick road to meet the Wizard of Oz.
Under the cooperative direction of Patrick Mullins and Anthony Stockard, and the imaginative choreography of Kavin Grant, the large cast dances and moves onto the stage with great energy. From hip-hop to interpretive, Grant's choreography is creative and propels the story forward. The principal dancers are phenomenal.
While the orchestra brings a big sound under the musical direction of Roy George, the instruments sometimes eclipse the voices on stage. Jeni Schaefer's costumes, especially for the lead performers, are vibrant and clever.
As a package, Matthew Jackson's Scarecrow, Jonathan Cooper's Tin Man, and Darius Nelson's Lion, serve up triple-threat acting, dancing and vocal talent. While Cooper's "Slide Some Oil to Me" tap number is truly a first-act showstopper, Nelson's sometimes-improvisational Lion commands the majority of the audience's attention.
Playing opposite to Nicole Powell's perfect Aunt Em, it takes the big-voiced, Alana Houston some time to get comfortable in the role of Dorothy. It's in ballads such as the finale, "Home," where Houston really puts her stamp on the iconic character from Kansas.
Decked out in black stilettos and an attitude to match, New York actress Laiona Michelle offers wicked fun in the eleven o' clock showstopper, "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News." Also worth mentioning is Meredith Noel's hilarious take on Addaperle, the good witch who has lost her magic and relies on sight gags.
Complemented by Jason Amato's lighting work and Danny Erdberg's luscious sound design, Korey Washington's scenery is impressive and inventive, and uses a large staircase and platforms with changing LEDs as the centerpiece. The construction and deconstruction of Kansas is a visual treat, executed to great effect.
A smattering of equity and other regional performers add much-needed professionalism to what, at times, seems like a collegiate production. THE WIZ runs at the Wells Theatre through April 30.