Review: THE WIZ National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

The pre-Broadway engagement runs through December 10, 2023

By: Dec. 01, 2023
Review: THE WIZ National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

It’s a “brand new day” for THE WIZ with new material from Amber Ruffin in this Broadway-bound engagement, but the production is well-trod territory. While I don’t take issue with the 1974 musical’s source material (Broadway is no stranger to riffs on THE WIZARD OF OZ), but the production choices — and the new additions to the book — don’t make this a unique or refreshed interpretation. From the gray tones of Kansas to the technicolor fairy-tale transformation into Oz (set by Hannah Beachler and costumes by Sharen Davis), this WIZ follows a well-worn path. That’s not to say the production isn’t enjoyable, but this Yellow Brick Road isn’t taking audiences on a novel adventure.

Super fans of THE WIZ will surely appreciate the return of William Brown and Charlie Smalls’s material to the stage. Aside from the fact that the musical hasn’t been on Broadway in almost 40 years, I don’t think the production has a strong raison d’etre. That said, there’s some nice performances. Nichelle Lewis is capable as Dorothy; she has a pretty tone, but her microphone needed to be turned way up on the night I attended. She’s an affable Dorothy and it’s not an easy feat to be on the stage almost all the time, but she played the role with an earnest, sweet-as-pie treatment. It was a straightforward, familiar interpretation. Her three Yellow Brick Road companions are more dynamic and easily the highlights of the production. Avery Wilson is a charming Scarecrow; he’s a talented singer and he executes JaQuel Knight’s choreography beautifully. Wilson’s movement patterns capture the fluidity of a boneless Scarecrow. Phillip Johnson Richardson is among the most remarkable dancers in the company as the Tinman; he truly transforms in his solo “Slide Some Oil Down Me” when Dorothy gives him the gift of movement once more. Kyle Ramar Freeman is outsized and hilarious as the Lion; he has a frivolous and delightful energy that makes him a gem to watch. The quartet delivers on the iconic “Ease On Down The Road,” though Lewis’ counterparts overpower her vocally. While she doesn’t have much time on stage, Deborah Cox has a serene, queenly presence as Glinda and shows off her signature belt. While Melody A. Betts follows a predictable course as Dorothy’s well-meaning Aunt Em, she really brings down the house as Wicked Witch Evilene in “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” Betts’s riffs and vocal choices make it clear why she was cast. 

JaQuel Knight’s choreography has some beautiful moments. “The Emerald City” Act Two opening dance montage is a visual feast, and Knight skillfully incorporates different dance styles for the ensemble to take on. By contrast, The Wiz (Alan Mingo, Jr.) has an underwhelming entrance, and the production emphasizes the challenge that the character’s infrequent appearances feel like a disconnect. Mingo’s a fun performer, but I think the staging around him could have been grander and bolder. 

THE WIZ is a joyful reinvention of THE WIZARD OF OZ, but this production doesn’t tread an original, inspired Yellow Brick Road.

The Broadway In Chicago engagement of THE WIZ plays through December 10, 2023 at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph. Tickets are $55 - $195. 

Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel




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