THE WIZ at Children's Theatre Company
Children's Theatre Company, in collaboration with Penumbra Theatre, presents THE WIZ. At the time of its opening on Broadway in 1974, THE WIZ was a modern retelling of The Wizard of Oz, featuring Soul-inspired songs and an entirely African-American cast. It was later adapted into a popular 1978 film starring Diana Ross and a young Michael Jackson. The Children's Theatre Company's production of THE WIZ opened on January 23rd and will run through March 18th.
The Cast of THE WIZ: Greta Oglesby (Aunt Em, Evillene), Dennis W. Spears (Uncle Henry, Tinman), Aimee Bryant (Addaperle, Ensemble), T. Mychael Rambo (The Wiz), Rudolph Searles III (Lion), Paris Bennett (Dorothy), Jamecia Bennett (Glinda, Ensemble), Dwight Leslie (Scarecrow), China Brickey (Ensemble, Understudy Aunt Em, Evillene, Glinda, Dance Captain), Eli Cambridge (Ensemble), Dionna Commodore (Ensemble), Raphael "Ray" Dow III (Ensemble), Liliana Felton (Ensemble), Marc Gill (Ensemble, Understudy Scarecrow), John Jamison (Ensemble, Understudy Lion), Rajané Katurah (Ensemble, Understudy Addaperle, Dorothy), Saniya Long (Ensemble), Gregory Parks (Understudy Tinman, Uncle Henry, The Wiz), Christopher Patiño (Ensemble), Aliya Mukamuri (Ensemble), and Kyra Richardson (Ensemble).
The Creative Team: William F. Brown (Playwright), Tina Tippit (Additional Material), Charlie Smalls (Composer & Lyricist), Lou Bellamy (Director of The Wiz, Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus of Penumbra Theatre), Patdro Harris (Assistant Director & Choreographer), Sanford Moore (Music Director), Vicki Smith (Scenic Designer), Mathew LeFebvre (Costume Designer), Don Darnutzer (Lighting Designer), Sten Severson (Sound Designer), Craig Gottschalk (Projection Designer), Jenny R. Friend (Stage Manager), Kathryn Sam Houkom (Assistant Stage Manager), Paige Reynolds (Stage Management Fellow), Eva Chastain (Stage Management Intern), Brandi Mans (Costume Design Assistant), Kathy Maxwell (Assistant Lighting Designer), and Katharine Horowitz (Assistant Sound Designer).
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Rohan Preston, Star Tribune: "The Wiz" that opened Friday at CTC is, in a word, spectacular. A collaboration with St. Paul's Penumbra Theatre, this pizazzy production directed by Penumbra founder Lou Bellamy brims with sophistication and style, from Patdro Harris' gorgeous and evocative choreography and Mathew LeFebvre's eye-popping costumes, to Vicki Smith's colorful sets and Sanford Moore's jazzy, soulful musical arrangements. This production is so studded with vocal firepower that it feels like not just a theater show but an all-star concert.
Jill Schafer, BroadwayWorld: I don't even know where to begin with this cast! So let's start with Dorothy herself - Paris Bennett. The daughter and granddaughter of local music legends from Sounds of Blackness is now 29 and with a child of her own, but she doesn't look a day older than when she was an American Idol Top 5 finalist when she was 17 years old. Paris was born for the stage and imbues Dorothy with a youthful charm and energy, and what a voice! Her rendition of "Home" is a highlight, closely followed by her mother Jamecia nearly bringing the house down with "Believe in Yourself." Here's a quick rundown of the rest of the fabulousness in the cast: Greta Oglesby is deliciously evil as the Wicked Witch. Aimee Bryant is a ditsy delight as the other good witch Addaperle. I wish T. Mychael Rambo had more than one song as the Wiz, although his boogying in a bathrobe almost makes up for it. Dennis W. Spears' performance as the Tin Man is everything, with funky robotic moves that shouldn't be possible for a man of his experience. He's still got it. Completing the trio of Dorothy's friends, CTC performing artist Dwight Leslie is well cast as the loose-limbed Scarecrow, and Rudolph Searles III makes a loveable cowardly lion. The ensemble is filled with talented performers who play multiple characters, and even personify inanimate objects like the yellow brick road. I've learned from past experience to keep my eyes on John Jamison and China Brickey, which pays off well here.
Dominic P. Papatola, Twin Cities Pioneer Press: If you're looking for an energetic, rafter-raising evening of music by some of the Twin Cites highest-caliber performers, then "The Wiz" is most certainly your ticket. If, however, you're in the mood for a well-rounded evening of musical theater, you might walk out of The Children's Theatre Company feeling disappointed. "The Wiz" - a sunny, soul-infused, African-American spin on L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" - is the first full-fledged artistic collaboration between CTC and Penumbra Theatre. Helmed by Penumbra founder Lou Bellamy, the show radiates color and energy and spirit, sailing along when it's singing. But it tends to sag and drag when attempting to advance the familiar narrative of a Kansas girl with bedazzled slippers and her friends on the yellow brick road to Oz.
Bev Wolfe, Twin Cities Arts Reader: The plot of The Wiz is similar to the movie classic, with minor nuances, but this interpretation of the story centers on vivacious dancing, powerful ballads, and soul music with uplifting messages about believing in one's self. Paris Bennett, who is nearly thirty, convincingly plays a teenage Dorothy with her youthful exuberant persona. When she sings her solos with the powerful voice of a fully mature woman, there is a bit of a disconnect. (CTC's 2015 production of The Wizard of Oz had the opposite arrangement.) Seales' Lion plays Dorothy's protector and closest confident with incredible leaps and dance moves. Spears' has a great time with his Dixieland solo "Slide Some Oil to Me." Leslie also does a nice turn as the wise-cracking Scarecrow. Bryant plays a bubbly and, at times, ditsy Addaperile. Rambo is a less fearsome Wiz and deftly eases into the show-stopping song-and-dance sequences "Believe in Yourself" and "Y'all Got It!" Jamecia Bennett (in an interesting piece of trivia, the real-life mother of Paris) sings a powerful and stunning version of "A Rested Body is a Rested Mind". The most impressive song performance, however, was Oglesby's rendition of the R&B song "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News." The only disappointing aspect of Oglesby's performance as the Wicked Witch of the West is that she has so little time on stage before her liquidation.
Jay Gabler, City Pages: Dwight Leslie, Spears, and Rudolph Searles III make a fun trio as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, respectively. The Wiz is a big show for the Lion, and Searles finds a warm chemistry with the confident Bennett. Glinda is played by Jamecia Bennett (yes, Paris' mom), who sings to her daughter in a manner that acknowledges their shared strength. We've got this, their smiling glances seem to say, and indeed they do. It's [T. Mychael] Rambo, though, who connects most directly with the audience. In part that's because when he emerges from behind his smoke and mirrors, he has the benefit of a relatively quiet scene that gives him room to build that rapport. Aimee Bryant also has some nice moments as Addaperle, the story's most relatable witch. As Evillene, on the other hand, even the powerful Oglesby is nearly swamped by the steampunk shenanigans unfolding all around her.
Photo Courtesy of Children's Theatre Company.