It’s no surprise that ‘The Wiz’ is good, given the cult classic on which it’s based. (Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in the original movie roles? Please, like it could be anything else.) It’s also no surprise that ‘The Wiz’ is great, at least not to anyone who’s seen Emerald City’s prior productions, which seamlessly blend family-friendly showmanship with killer pipes, a la last season’s exceptional ‘Schoolhouse Rock.’ What is surprising, however, is how relevant a story originating in 1900 actually is to audiences in 2017.
If you go
Runs through June 8, 2017
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
This bouncy version, whose storyline owes more to L. Frank Baum’s ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ with all lyrical glory pulled from the aforementioned 1978 film and Charlie Smalls’ score, is directed by ECT Artistic Associate Jamal Howard. It follows the beloved tale of Dorothy, a bit of crazy weather, some beautifully loyal friends, and oh–that music. Songs like “Ease on Down the Road” and “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” will stick in your brain long after the yellow bricks have been trod, and themes of friendship, bravery and growing up–while fearing change–will resonate for many in the audience, regardless of silver sneaker size.
The cast of ‘The Wiz’ is simply tremendous. The roles you know–Miguel Long as the Lion, Jar’Davion Brown as the TinMan, and Leon Evans as the Scarecrow–are every bit as silly and lovable as childhood recollection would demand. Eric M. Jenkins’ turn as a suavely powerful Wiz is particularly fun, and Aziza Macklin (Glinda), Tuesdai B. Perry (Addaperle) and Deanalís Resto (Evillene) as the trio of witches–good, wicked and otherwise–enjoy the heck out of their diva turns with show-stopping numbers and accessories to match. While they all seemed to dig their roles, it was Frankie Leo Bennett who probably had the greatest time, what with his transition from a concerned portion of the yellow brick road to a maniacally laughing Oz gatekeeper to a gleeful flying monkey. That said, keep an eye on Isis Elizabeth, who played Dorothy; the Chicago high-schooler with the terrific range is destined for great things, and it’s extraordinarily cool to see someone with this much talent so early on in their artistic career.
There’s absolutely no place like home, but with an ensemble this strong, a score this joyful, and a staging this packed with cheer, Emerald City Theatre’s take on Oz is definitely worth the day trip.