May 20 saw the opening of Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s “The Wiz,” the penultimate main stage production of TMP’s 22nd Season. “The Wiz” originally ran on Broadway in the 1970s, and was the source of the 1978 movie of the same title (starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell and Richard Pryor). The spectacular production is a musical retelling of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
TMP’s production is noteworthy for its spectacular stage sets and numerous ensemble scenes in which the cast are decked out in colorful, fantastic costumes that delight the eye – hats off to costume manager Jocelyne Fowler. There are characters dressed as tornados, sensual poppies, comical crows and frightening kalidahs (creatures that are half tiger and half bear). There are even figures in fancy yellow outfits and yellow wigs that are the anthropomorphized incarnation of the yellow brick road itself. The citizens of the Emerald City, with all their finery in shades of green, are strikingly beautiful.
The stage lighting and props are all nicely handled, especially the giant, steam-venting head of the pseudo wizard with its moving mouth and green, flashing eyes. It is the great stage props that transport the audience from Dorothy’s rustic Kansas farm, through fantastical forests and all the way to the Emerald City (not Seattle) during the course of the show.
While the story is focused on Dorothy and her companions, the three witches really steal the show. Jamelia Payne is scintillating as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West. Payne inhabits her role from her stomping high heels to the tips of her fingers. Her song, “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News,” featuring Payne’s rich, brassy voice is one of the high points of the show.
The magic-challenged, yet good-natured, Addeperle, the Good Witch of the North, is played to the humorous hilt by Sheila “Kay” Blackwell. Roshawn Johnson handles the role of Glinda the Good Witch of the South. Johnson’s vocals blend a silvery brilliance with a velvety smoothness.
Alexandria Henderson has the lead role as Dorothy. The role does not let her talents reveal themselves in their full glory, however, until the final number, “Home.” It is not until this last song of the entire show that the audience is finally treated to the bedazzling, full-throated power of Henderson’s vocal chords.
Charles Simmons as the Scarecrow; Matthew Dela Cruz as the Lion; Jimmy Shields as Tin Man; Duwayne Andrews as The Wiz and Russell Campbell as the Gatekeeper are all given their moments to shine during the course of the production. Marion Read, who plays Aunt Em, is the first to get things started with a lush rendition of the wistful “The Feeling We Once Had.”
“The Wiz” is punctuated by several dance numbers like the “Tornado Ballet,” “Emerald City Ballet” and the great rejoicing in the wake of the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West. These ensemble dances, however, often seemed to lack the edgy frenzy of energy that they seemed to want. There were also occasional technical difficulties with some of the microphones.
TMP’s “The Wiz” has many good, colorful, lyrical and well-crafted moments that make it worth seeing, but the audience is kept waiting for great gushes of song and energy that fail to materialize with much frequency.
“The Wiz” runs through June 12 with Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances. For further information visit tmp.org. If your browser cannot access the website try the TMP facebook page at www.facebook.com/TacomaMusicalPlayhouse.