Friday, April 13, 2018

Waiting for Dorothy - The Wiz at Ford's Theatre

A Wiz without a Dorothy isn’t much of a Wiz at all.

That doesn’t mean that the production of The Wiz currently running at Ford’s Theatre is a lost cause. Director Kent Gash fills his stage with glorious spectacle, but if we don’t care about Dorothy, what does it all matter?

The Wiz is a 1976 musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. The story is the same—Kansas farm girl gets transported to a magical land by a tornado, kills the first person she meets, and then teams up with three strangers to kill again—but this time with an African-American aesthetic replete with black vernacular, music, expression, and updated cultural references such as Siri and Wakanda. Its appeal is infectious.

Unfortunately, our Dorothy is completely unlikable. The script by William F. Brown and Charlie Smalls doesn’t give enough time to establish that Dorothy likes Kansas and her family at all before she transports to Oz (and Gash doesn’t help matters with his staging). Dorothy exists in this Oz as a tour guide introducing us to her supporting cast, and Ines Nassara’s portrayal jumps straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon and only has one setting: overdone. Mugging for the audience and overreacting facial expressions are her baseline, and it does nothing to improve the production. The supporting cast fares better, especially Hasani Allen’s rubber-physiqued Scarecrow and Awa Sal Secka’s Glinda (whose reprise rendition of “Believe in Yourself” threatened to take the roof off the theatre). Music Director Darius Smith draws powerful vocal performances from the cast, and the orchestra under his direction deserves accolades.

The scenic design by Jason Sherwood (with a big assist from projection designer Clint Allen) brims with versatility including a gigantic circular panel that serves as a projection screen, crystal ball, and the Wiz’s balloon, along with another piece that literally turns Dorothy’s world upside-down. Costumes by Kara Harmon give life to the citizens of Oz with dazzling colors, sparkling fabrics, and ambitious construction. Gash’s directorial hand keeps the aesthetic vision consistent throughout, and it all adds up to what should be a satisfying production.

But any retelling of Oz comes down to Dorothy, and this one misses the mark. It doesn’t matter how well-crafted the rest of the production is—if we don’t like Dorothy, we may find ourselves wishing that we could click our own heels three times to get out of Oz.

---Shane Strawbridge

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