The strains of “Ease on Down the Road” emanating from Woodland Park these days are not traffic directions for the convoluted one-way streets in that neighborhood; they are the groovy sounds of Charlie Smalls’ iconic musical “The Wiz,” which sets the adventures of Dorothy and her friends in Oz to Motown music in an updated urban fairytale.
Director Wesley Nelson and choreographer Jaasiel Wilson have captured the flavor of this quirky show in their light-hearted approach, and musical director Jessica Slaton Greene has maximized the potential of the excellent cast and band in realizing the particular demands of the familiar score. Audiences have through July 16 to get their funk on by attending this delightful, family-friendly production.
Traditionally, “The Wiz” is presented as an all-black musical, but SummerFest’s production judiciously intersperses a few white actors and dancers in appropriate roles without jeopardizing the tone. This sensitively mixed casting sends a wonderful message to our community in these culturally polarized times.
The four leading roles are treacherously difficult in numerous ways, but this superb cast surmounts any such obstacles. In the star-making part of Dorothy, Krissalyn Love commands the stage with earnest acting and a powerhouse voice that only gets stronger throughout the evening. What is more, she has the requisite charisma to carry the show’s actions and the audience’s sympathies. Frankly, it is amazing that we have someone in our community who could fulfill this demanding role so very well.
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Dorothy’s three friends are also portrayed with great humor and charm by a trio of performers well known to Lexington audiences. Ron Wilbur’s Lion is suave and silly, and Justin Norris’s Tin Man is witty and affecting, and both present awesome vocals. Best of all, Cole J. Campbell is incredibly cute and sweet as Scarecrow, with lovely, nuanced reactions and double-takes adding depth to a character expressed in large, loose gestures and likewise excellent singing.
The four leading roles are treacherously difficult in numerous ways, but this superb cast surmounts any such obstacles.
The supporting characters add marvelous moments to the show as well. Erica Tilford as Addaperle brings incandescent energy to the stage with her outstanding voice and vivacious personality, and Maranda Brooks amuses rather than frightens as the villainous Evillene. In the double role of Aunt Em/Glinda, Tammie Harris displays a fabulous gospel voice but somewhat flatter acting than from the other characters. Zach Day impersonates a very fey Wiz in campy colors.
The Munchkin kids and the adult dancing ensemble contribute mightily to the show, too. The children are both precious and precocious in their scenes, and the dancers portray everything from the storm to the yellow brick road itself in this imaginative staging.
The eight-piece band under Greene’s direction plays the ’70s musical styles with verve and feeling, although the woodwinds got disturbingly sharp pitch-wise in the humid heat of the outdoor setting: I wanted to shout “pull out!” to the saxophone player after every song!
I have one other, much more serious complaint. If I had not been extremely familiar with the song lyrics before the show, I would not have understood a single word the whole evening long. Just because it’s Motown, doesn’t mean that it should be delivered in unintelligible, downright mushy diction. The audience should never have to work to understand the words. That is the job of the performers.
The multi-level, mobile unit set by Shan Ayers, with faux-ghetto graffiti décor by Garrett Rea serves the action smoothly, and the lighting and sound design by Danny Bowling and Paul Manning, respectively, enhance the experience. The glitzy costumes by Patrick Howell catch the eye and reveal the characters, going a long way toward bringing this fantasy to life.
What: SummerFest’s production of the Charlie Smalls-William F. Brown musical
When: July 7-9 and 13-16; gates open at 7:30 p.m., performance starts at 8:45 nightly
Where: Woodland Park, 601 E. High St.
Tickets: $15 general admission, $20 with chair rental