Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The Wiz
Stage Door Theatre
Review by Cindy Pierre


Ben Bagby, Darius J. Manuel, Nayomi Braaf,
and Kedrick D. Faulk

Photo by David Martinek
If you're looking for a fun time with lots of smiles, laughter and amusement, then ease on down, ease on down the road to Stage Door Theatre's production of The Wiz at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center. A large African-American cast and ensemble present this musical version, with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and book by William F. Brown, of L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" filtered through black culture. The result is a flawed but energetic and inventive version of the phenomenon made famous by entertainers like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in the 1978 film.

The Wiz centers on 13-year-old Dorothy, played by 24-year-old vocal powerhouse Nayomi Braaf, who dreams of leaving her Kansas farm to travel to distant lands. Shortly afterwards, a tornado, represented by dancer Kimberly Mhoon, whisks Dorothy and her farmhouse away to Oz, a fantasy land filled with wizards, witches, and all sorts of magical creatures. When she learns from Addaperle (vivacious Arlene Coutee), the Good Witch of the North, that the Wizard of Oz ((Jamari Johnson Williams), or The Wiz for short, in Emerald City can help her to get back home, she sets off on her journey down the Yellow Brick Road. Along the way, brain-seeking Scarecrow (Kedrick Faulk), heart-seeking Tinman (Ben Bagby), and courage-seeking Lion (Darius J. Manuel) join her with the hopes that The Wiz will make their dreams come true. Though Dorothy is fearful and doubtful of what lies ahead, her new motley crew bring her comfort and companionship and put her mind at ease. Together, they are able to surmount numerous challenges and troubles.

Because The Wiz is composed of 20 actors, intricate choreography, and many scene and set changes, it is no small feat to make everything and everyone cohesive. Fortunately, director and choreographer Lloyd Culbreath does a fine job of streamlining nearly every move. Though the choreography doesn't always impress and the freeze frames are sometimes not effective, Culbreath helps the cast weave in and out of dance sequences seamlessly and elicits strong performances from the principal actors.

Faulk, Manuel and Williams deliver memorable performances as Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion, respectively. Though Braaf defies the sound problems with her soaring vocals, her supporting trio of wonderful character actors make The Wiz a delight. From the jubilant Scarecrow and the robotic Tinman to the cowardly ways of the Lion, there is so much to tantalize the senses that you won't be able to keep your eyes off of them.

The scenery and costumes will also keep you engaged. From the opening scene, set designer Randall Parsons creates a lackluster and boring picture of Kansas that makes it completely understandable when Dorothy starts to daydream. The props are sparse and the windmill doesn't spin. With a farm that seems devoid of greenery and life, even though we know that there's a dog named Tonto running around, the prospects are stark. This is a perfect springboard for launching Dorothy toward a land that is the opposite of her hometown.

Although Culbreath's costume concepts are sometimes odd, they are very creative and support the mythical constructs of Oz. Some of the triumphs are the geometric and colorful shapes worn by the Munchkins, the umpire-look of the metallic Tinman, and the Wesley Snipes circa Blade look of The Wiz. Together with designers Lenora J. Nitikin, Santiago Roja, and Costume World, the costumes enliven our imagination.

Other successful production elements are the manner in which the weather and inanimate objects are personified. The hallucination-inducing poppies that entrance the Lion are dancers . The Yellow Brick Road are four men clad in yellow. There is never a dull moment that's not meant to be dull, and each scene makes the audience look forward to the next.

The Wiz is the second production at Stage Door Theatre's new home that continues the theme of reviving the classics of the stage and screen. Despite some areas that need improvement, it is a great spectacle of artistry and a solid achievement.

Stage Door Theatre's The Wiz, through December 31, 2018, at Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, 3800 NW 11th Place, Lauderhill FL. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. For tickets and information please call 954-344-7765 or visit www.stagedoorfl.org.

Cast:
Kyaunnee Richardson: Aunt Em and Glinda
Nayomi Braaf: Dorothy
Jamari Williams: Uncle Henry and The Wiz
Ben Bagby: Tinman
Arlene Coutee: Addaperle
Kedrick Faulk: Scarecrow
Sarah Gracel: Evillene
Darius J. Manuel: Lion

Ensemble:
Michael J. Baugh
Kolten Bell
Alexander Domingue
Cameron Mitchell Jackson
Kimberly Mhoon
Johanna Moise
Alicia Nicole
Mickey M. Nixon
Amy Romero
Andre Russell
Johanna Taylor
Shanna L. Woods

Crew:
ASM/Backstage: Amanda Eisele and Rushnay Henry
Spotlight Operators: Berlinda Duvet and Belinda Chase
Costumes By: Leonora J. Nitikin, Santiago Roja and Costume World
Costume Stitchers: Amber Black and Katonya Richmond
Set Design: Randall Parsons
Prop Design: Jameelah Bailey
Set Construction: Stage Door Scenic
Sound Engineer: King Raymonvil
Stage Manager: Nancy Clay
Lighting Design: Kirk Bookman
Associate Director/Choreographer: Marissa Calabrese
Musical Director: David Nagy
Directed, Choreographed, and Costume Concept by Lloyd Culbreath

Band:
Keyboard 1/Conductor: David Nagy
Keyboard 2: Karen Nagy
Bass: Rupert Ziawinski
Drums: Brian Sayre
Guitar: Sandy Poltarack


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