Ease on down to the Red House for 'The Wiz'

Ease on down to the Red House for 'The Wiz'

"The Wiz" Presented by The Red House Arts Center Where: 201 S. West Street, Syracuse When Now - Dec. 10 Tickets: $15/ $10 for members GRR Review by Kelundra Smith 

The Redhouse seems an unlikely, small place to put on "The Wiz," but the set and props designers pulled it off. Right down to the adorable Boston Terrier who plays Toto, this show is light-hearted and fun.

"The Wiz" takes Dorothy out of Kansas and drops her in Harlem before a tornado, underscoring the adventure with a R&B soundtrack. As she walks through Oz, the urban landscape of New York impedes upon this fanciful place, with a group of crows, more like street salesman, pawning off everything from empty ketchup bottles to Kentucky Fried Chicken. The trees in the Lion’s jungle are Forest Fresh car air fresheners that are hung around rear view mirrors. And the gates of the Emerald City are like midtown Manhattan, made to look like the Coco Chanel brand logo.

Director Stephen Svoboda took a lot of inspiration from the 1978 movie, which starred Diana Ross (Dorothy), Michael Jackson (Scarecrow) and Richard Pryor (The Wiz), especially with Dorothy’s look. Svoboda managed a large cast in a small space well, though the cast could have done without the wireless microphones, which were distracting and unnecessary. And the transition from Harlem to Oz could have been smoother. It seemed like one second Dorothy was talking to Aunt Em, and the next the tornado, or rather four actors waving long, satin sheets of fabric, appeared in colorful flashing lights. It was a cool concept, but the pacing was uneven.

This could perhaps be attributed to the wide range of experience in the cast, which was composed of local high school students, college students and some young, professional actors. The overall feeling of the show was young—and it showed in the energetic dancing and the sometimes off pacing and line delivery. But, the cast was having fun, so the audience was too.

There was a live band featuring a guitar, piano, saxophone, clarinet, guitar and electric drums, under the direction of Zachery Orts. Even though a lot of the singing was more reminiscent of a black church on a Sunday, than theater, there’s no doubt that these kids can sing. Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man were all great singers and dancers, who were really into their characters. The musical numbers “Slide Some Oil to Me” and “Be a Lion” showcased the singing, and the second reprise of “Ease on Down the Road” showed off their dancing. However, there were times when Caitlin Geler’s choreography seemed too big for the stage space and moments when it looked like someone was going to get kicked or elbowed easing on down the road.

Joan Anderson's performance of Dorothy was very a la Diana Ross, and her voice was beautiful, controlled and not pitchy, but lacked some of the power the main character needed. Blondean Young as the bag lady Adapearle was endearing, energetic and funny in her green, purple and pink wig, which was more like decorative ribbon for a present than hair. Her costume was like a bunch of 99 cent recyclable grocery bags were made into a moo-moo, which worked for her character. Also, in the ensemble, the tiny, feisty, 11-year-old Lucy Di Genova created full, hilarious characters.

The set was simple, but got the point across, with a silver, aluminum backdrop like you would expect to see in warehouse or factory. It worked well with The Wiz’s green and gray pinstriped suit, and scattered the green lights in his scenes in a way that made the whole stage look like wrapping paper. There was a raised platform at stage left, where a trio of 1960’s-esque girls, dressed in glittery ponchos with flowers in their hair, underscored the show with “doo wops”. The ensemble acted as a construction zone like yellow brick road, holding signs warning of flying monkeys and poppy fields.

Some of the set and costume elements had modern touches, like the apples on the Tin Man’s trees looked like a rainbow version of the Macintosh apples. The Tin Man’s costume made him look like a silver hipster, with his pocketed vest, quilted cap, gray striped t-shirt, and gray jeans. The past due notices covering Scarecrow’s suit and the Broke Wall Street sign he was posted on conjured images of the Occupy movement.