It is the practice of the Snow Camp Outdoor Theatre group, which runs Sword of Peace and Pathway to Freedom each summer, to close out the season with a Broadway Musical. This year the group selected The Wiz, the African-American redo of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.
Written by composer/librettist Charlie Smalls and playwright William F. Brown, The Wiz uses Baum’s masterpiece as the backdrop for some very different songs than its musical predecessor. But the rendition of the play performed by the Snow Camp folks is only a mere shadow of what the play can be and — judging from viewer reviews online — has been. Fraught with technical difficulties throughout the show and a combination of highs and lows in casting, the show has only a few highlights to recommend it and, sadly, not nearly enough of them to warrant the one-hour drive to Snow Camp.
There are over 30 cast members in this show, and some spoken roles are cameos at most. Aunt Em (Kathryne Daniels) has the first solo of the work, “The Feeling We Once Had,” but a bum mic refused to allow us to hear it. Toto (Rudy) is but a cameo in this play — the pup doesn’t even leave Kansas. And Dorothy (Ashle Matthews) is adorable but spends the show either shouting her lyrics or singing them flat.
There is a large group of storm-bringers — nine in all — but the storm is little more than a blip on the map; I’ve seen better tempests in a teacup. Once we get to the Land of Oz, things start to perk up. The Munchkins are cute but difficult to imagine because all the little people must perform on their knees (!) and getting offstage — which means covering a large distance in said mode — looks painful and takes too long. Dorothy’s ruby slippers turn out to be silver in this rendition, but she make the same promise — this time to a Good Witch of the North, Addaperle (Tashia Dorsey) — not to remove them until she gets home.
The best of all the cast members are the Trio Dorothy meets along the way. The Scarecrow (Zach Roe) is comical and sassy, demonstrating the required looseness and giving a smart repartee throughout the show. The Tin Man (Philip Butts) has a great intro titled “Slide a Little Oil to Me” revealing a well-oiled set of pipes, and our Cowardly Lion (James Shields) is aces as the scaredy cat looking for some Courage. There is a pretty highstepping quartet of gentlemen (Charles Armstrong, John Martin, Derek Spack, Justin Thomas) who, with the aid of some yellow staffs, represent the Yellow Brick Road and join in several of the numbers including the signature “Ease on Down the Road.”
The company dancers do a great job of representing life in the Green Apple (the Emerald City), but the Wiz himself has trouble with his “Big Voice” and his first scene, which closes Act 1, falls flat. After a fifteen-minute intermission, there is a real rush to conclude. Act 2 contains only four songs. There is only one scene wit the Wicked Witch of the West, Evillene (Nickie Hilton) and her flying monkeys, before we are immediately moved to the final scene. The finale, a full-company number titled "If You Believe," seemed to be accomplished with a sense of relief. Continuing technical difficulties, miscues with lights that revealed scene set-up normally requiring darkness, and some scenes lit so darkly as to be in darkness themselves, left this reviewer disappointed. What is here may very well have been “rain tempo” Tuesday night, but the entire production seemed rushed and ill-prepared. It seems that The Wiz just wasn’t ready for production opening night.
This production continues through August 28; for details, see our calendar.