`Wiz' has fine foursome, uncertain identity
Danbury's Musicals at Richter is closing out its season with a curious choice and an even more curious production of ``The Wiz.''
``The Wiz,'' a 1975 Broadway entry, is a retelling of Frank Baum's children's classic, ``The Wizard of Oz,'' conceived for an all-black cast and with a 1970s rock score by Charles Smalls. William F. Brown's book translates the Midwestern flavor of Dorothy and her friends into the hip attitudes and slang of urban blacks.
It might be workable to stage ``The Wiz'' with an integrated cast _ as Richter has _ or even an all-white cast. A young black actress named Tracee Beazer plays Dorothy and there are several other black performers, but the majority of the cast is white.
If Musicals at Richter and director J.D. Bauer had simply staged ``The Wiz'' as a straight-forward musical, stripped of the attempts at street- wise attitudes and jive talk by white performers _ which ring false here _ it would have fared better.
No one could realistically expect any score to erase the memories of those wonderful songs from the MGM film of ``Oz,'' but Small's music is '70s Muzak, a pastiche of soft rock. ``Ease On Down the Road'' is the only hummable tune.
Now the good news. The actors playing Dorothy, the Tinman, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow couldn't be livelier. Beazer has a light, sweet voice and her Kansas teen-ager is as polite as she is plucky.
John E. Carter cuts an impressive figure as the Tinman, and his spirited choreography for the show deserves high praise. His exuberance and dancing verve clearly have rubbed off on the large chorus of young performers for they're an energized lot, whether as Munchkins or Monkeys. Several boys, not identified in the musical numbers, show off gymnastic skills with flips and daring leaps.
The comic shtick of the Cowardly Lion is assigned to Paul Aguirre and he's as lovable a scaredy cat as we've seen. Matthew LaBanca's considerable experience shines through in his engaging turn as the limber-limbed Strawman.
Less successful are the magicless Wiz of Joe Merola; the brusque Evillene, the bad witch, played by Denise A. Fitzsimmons; and Alyson Mayne's bland Glinda.
Even in the most professional of companies, the mock ballet meant to depict the tornado is laughable; likewise, a coarse and silly number involving the Lion and some leggy Poppies is as corny as a Vegas dance routine.
The musical accompaniment at Richter continues to be one of the troupe's strongest assets. Melissa Rodriquez at the keyboard conducts a six-piece combo that provides smooth and rhythmic backup.
Tom Cochrane's sets are amusing, especially a hubcap-encrusted throne for Evillene. And Yvette Beausoleil has dressed the inhabitants of the merry old land of Oz with imagination and splashes of technicolor.
The dancing, fantastic adventures and the ebullience of the four Oz travelers will provide satisfactory entertainment for most audiences, but this ``Wiz'' suffers from a split personality. : ``The Wiz'' continues through Aug. 17 at Musicals at Richter, Richter Park, 100 Aunt Hack Road, Danbury.
Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Grounds open at 7:15 for picnicking.
Tickets are $12 Thursday and Sunday, $10 for seniors and students; $14 Friday and Saturday, $12 for students and seniors. For reservations, call 748-MUSE.
copyright © by The News-Times