Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Wiz
Near West Theatre
Review by Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of The Whale

Connor Fields, Zeakia Jordon, Nate Jorgensen,
and Felix Albino

Photo Courtesy of Near West Theatre
Back in 1974 (or there about) Charlie Smalls (music and lyrics) teamed up with William F. Brown (book) to create an urbanized retelling of L. Frank Baum's classic turn of the century children's novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." This groundbreaking musical (originally titled: The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical "Wonderful Wizard of Oz") began in Baltimore before making its historic 1975 Broadway debut with an all black cast. The show won seven Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and ran for four years and 1,672 Broadway performances. It toured, has been revived numerous times around the world, and continues to be popular in schools and large theater companies.

Dorothy lives on a farm in Kansas with her Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and dog Toto. She is bored of farm life and is scolded by her aunt, who apologizes with a song. A bad storm is building up and suddenly turns into a tornado. As Aunt Em and Uncle Henry seek shelter in the storm cellar, Dorothy tries to find Toto. She ends up alone in the house as it is lifted and carried into the air, landing in an urban setting on top of a wicked witch, whose death frees the Munchkins.

Dorothy meets Addaperle (the good witch of the North), who suggests that a trip to the city of Oz is in order and sends the girl down the yellow brick road. During her journey she meets and befriends a scarecrow, a tin man, and a lion, all needing help from the great wizard, or The Wiz as he is called. The quartet battles evil forces and learn in the end that the things they sought (a brain for Scarecrow, a heart for Tinman, courage for Lion, and a trip home for Dorothy) were within reach all along.

The Near West Theatre production of The Wiz features a multicultural cast of highly charged and energetic youngsters (ages 9-15). For those unfamiliar with Near West's youth cast productions, many of these young actors are seasoned veterans of previous productions including many of the company's multi-generational works.

The cast of nearly fifty players fills the stage at times in sophisticated dance sequences expertly choreographed by Near West's own Joshua Landis. The show is loaded with songs and dance numbers, which are accompanied by a six-piece orchestra under the direction of John Krol. The real delight of this complex production is the singing. There is a bevy of outstanding performers, including Zoe Douglas as Aunt Em and Glinda, Zeakia Jordon as Dorothy, Connor Fields as Scarecrow, Felix Albino as Tinman, Nate Jorgensen as Lion, and Cole Tarantowski as The Wiz.

The show is fast-paced with some very cleverly thought out scene changes that utilize a series of large sliding and revolving panels as well as some video projections that really add to the atmosphere on stage. The costuming by April Rock is at the same time hip and functional without being overly done. Lighting designed by Adam Ditzel manages to match exactly the proper mood of the various stage settings. With all of the principles miked (along with the off-stage pit singers), sound is clear and sharp, and the special sound effects are perfectly timed.

Near West Theatre is a community theater in its purest form. The entire cast is made up of volunteers who are taught by paid professionals during an intense ten-week rehearsal process. The results are dazzling, especially in their new state of the art $7.3 million acting complex that they moved into in 2015 after having performed in the St. Patrick's Church community building since 1978.

As in all Near West Theatre productions, The Wiz is a family-friendly theater outing that the entire clan will enjoy. You will marvel at the youth of the actors on stage and the powerful beyond-their-years performances they give. This is a great "first time" show to see as well as an inspiration for younger family members about what can be achieved with hard work and plenty of rehearsal.

The Near West Theatre youth cast performance of The Wiz will be on stage through February 19, 2017, 6702 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. The price for regular remaining general admission seats is $10 ($8 for children 12 and under) with Star Seats (pick your own seat) tickets being $25. Tickets may be purchased by phone by calling (216) 961-6391 or online at

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