Review of The Wiz, a Penumbra and CTC Collaboration

Quote of the Day: My people have been wearing green glasses on their eyes so long that most of them think this really is an Emerald City. Oz, in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. The Wiz is the stage adaptation by William F. Brown, Tina Tippit, Charlie Smalls. It premiered on Broadway in October 1974, and made into a movie starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in 1978. It is currently playing on stage at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN, directed by Lou Bellamy, Choreographed by Patdro Harris, and Music Direction by Sandford Moore. 

Cast of THE WIZ photo by Dan Norman

Cast of THE WIZ photo by Dan Norman

I was blown away by The Wiz, a collaborative production by Penumbra and the Children’s Theatre Company, on stage at CTC through March 18, 2018. From the stunning costumes to the tremendous talent and energy of the actors and musicians, this was easily one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Paris Bennett plays Dorothy. When she’s speaking, she has a sweet, high voice, and an innocent air. The moment she opens her mouth and starts to sing, she is transformed to a pop diva with vocals as deep and rich as Dianna Ross (who played the role in the movie) and Whitney Houston. No wonder she was a Top Five Contestant on American Idol

Paris Bennett and tornado ensemble in The Wiz photo by Dan Norman

Paris Bennett and tornado ensemble in The Wiz photo by Dan Norman

The tornado scene is depicted by dancers, music, and sound effects. They whirl and twirl around Dorothy, confusing her, pulling her away from her home and her family, and deposit her on top of the destroyed house. Oz is Coney Island and Central Park, filled with wild characters and bazaar images. The Emerald City is New York City. Now, I know why I saw signs on lampposts and street signs that said “Emerald City” when I visited that wonderful place last fall. 

R. Michael Rambo as the Tinman, Dwight Leslie as Scarecrow, Paris Bennett as Dorothy, Rudolph Searles III as the Cowardly Lion, and ensemble dancers in The Wiz. Photo by Dan Norman

R. Michael Rambo as the Tinman, Dwight Leslie as Scarecrow, Paris Bennett as Dorothy, Rudolph Searles III as the Cowardly Lion, and ensemble dancers in The Wiz. Photo by Dan Norman

The Wiz is a re-imagined telling of a classic tale, one that we never tire of hearing. It’s the inward-outward journey. We watch Dorothy on a quest to find out where she belongs, the helpers she meets along the way, the evil she encounters, the forces that get in her way and distract her from her goal. We ease on down the road with her as she experiences deception, control, confusion, and finally finds the strength within herself that she had all along. The creators of The Wiz set out to highlight the talents of the African-American community. They infused lyrics and musical styles of hip-hop, soul, R&B, and jazz. The music is exciting and the vocals are amazing. And, the local talent who embody these roles are spectacular.

Greta Oglesby and ensemble in The Wiz photo by Dan Norman

Greta Oglesby and ensemble in The Wiz photo by Dan Norman

The press release (below) from the Children’s Theatre Company covers all the important details. This is truly a production worth seeing. It is a tremendous performance by an extremely talented cast, crew, and musicians. There were many goose-bumpy moments! The choreography made me want to jump out of my seat. This is an endearing story told in a way that makes it more of an urban fantasy, yet rooted in the very real journey that we all face to find our way in the world and know where we truly belong. 

You can see The Wiz at the Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis, MN through March 18, 2018.

Minneapolis, Minn. – Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) in partnership with Penumbra Theatre will present The Wiz, adapted from L. Frank Baum’s classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; directed by Lou Bellamy, Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus of Penumbra Theatre Company, assistant directed and choreographed by Patdro Harris (Broadway credits as Choreographer for A Raisin in the Sun), with music direction by Sanford Moore (Musical Director at Penumbra Theatre). The extraordinary cast includes Paris Bennett (American Idol top five finalist 2006) as Dorothy, Dennis Spears (Ivey Award for Excellence in Acting, Member of the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame) as Tinman, CTC’s Performing Apprentice Dwight Leslie as Scarecrow, Aimee Bryant (CTC’s Akeelah and the Bee) as Addaperle, T. Mychael Rambo (Guthrie Theatre, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Park Square Theatre, Mixed Blood) as The Wiz, Rudolph Searles III (Ordway Center for Performing Arts, Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Park Square Theatre) as Lion, Greta Oglesby (Guthrie Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Goodman Theatre, and more) as Aunt Em/Evillene, and Jamecia Bennett (Guthrie Theatre, Lab Theatre, Park Square Theatre, Capri Theatre) will take the stage as Glinda/Crow/Ensemble.

The production also includes scenic design by Vicki Smith (Bay Area Critics Award, Drama-Logue Award, Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Award, Denver Critics Award), costume design by Mathew LeFebvre (Guthrie, Signature Theatre, Minnesota Opera and others), lighting design by Don Darnutzer (Broadway credits as Lighting Designer for It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues) and sound design by Sten Severson (CTC, Broadway, West End, Off-Broadway, Public Theatre (Audelco Award).

“My concept for our production is rooted deeply in African American history & custom,” stated Director Lou Bellamy. “Dorothy’s journey from (in our production) Nicodemus, Kansas to the Wiz’s palace in Harlem, pays homage to the Great Migration made during Reconstruction by thousands of African Americans from rural environs to urban living.”

Children’s Theatre and Penumbra Theatre are excited to embark upon an historic partnership that will bring Minnesota audiences the best of what both companies offer. Long heralded as the leading theatre for young audiences in the country, CTC creates artistically excellent, sophisticated theatre for multigenerational audiences, while Penumbra Theatre, the leading African American theatre company in the nation, produces artistically excellent, socially responsible drama depicting authentic representations of black life and culture. Both companies bring a passion for advocacy for their often underserved audiences, and have pioneered educational programming that innovates within the field – CTC’s critical literacy work and Penumbra’s racial justice work will allow these two treasured companies to forge something together that neither could do alone. Leadership at both organizations is committed to forging a deep and equitable partnership that will indelibly impact both for the better.

“It is a great thrill and honor to partner with Penumbra Theatre,” stated CTC Artistic Director Peter C. Brosius. “They are a major force in the national theatre world as well as a local treasure. The insights and experience they bring to this partnership have been extraordinary and we look forward to continuing to find ways to work together.”

“This relationship isn’t transactional,” stated Penumbra Theatre Artistic Director Sarah Bellamy.  “We are getting to a space of depth and real honesty with each other in terms of our conversations about equity, what our aesthetics are, how we can create a proactive, equitable, shared learning environment and that feels very unique.”

Ease on down the road with Dorothy and her friends with a dazzling mixture of rock, gospel and soul music. Embark on this Oz-some adventure through a magic land where you will meet funky monkeys, winkies, Addaperle and Evillene. You don’t need a wizard—just believe in yourself to find home and feel that brand-new day.

The Wiz, produced by Children’s Theatre Company and Penumbra Theatre opens January 23 and runs through March 18, 2018 on the UnitedHealth Group Stage and is recommended for all ages. Individual show tickets and subscriptions can be purchased at childrenstheatre.org or by calling the ticket office at 612.874.0400. This production is proudly sponsored by Deluxe and Thomson Reuters.

 

Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) is the nation’s largest and most acclaimed theatre for multigenerational audiences.  It creates theatre experiences that educate, challenge, and inspire nearly 275,000 people annually.  CTC is the only theatre focused on young audiences to win the coveted Tony Award® for Outstanding Regional Theatre and is the only theatre in Minnesota to receive three Tony® nominations (for its production of A Year with Frog and Toad).  CTC is committed to producing world class productions at the highest level and to developing new works, more than 200 to date, dramatically changing the canon of work for young audiences.

Penumbra Theatre was founded in 1976 by Lou Bellamy to create a forum for African American voices in the Twin Cities theatre community. Penumbra has achieved national recognition for its quality productions and role in launching the career of many respected playwrights, including two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson. Today, Penumbra Theatre is Minnesota’s only professional African American theatre, and is one of only three professional African American theatres in the nation that offer a full season of performances.

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A Children’s Theatre Company and Penumbra Theatre Production of

The Wiz

Adapted from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Book by William F. Brown

Additional material by Tina Tippit

Music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls

Directed by Lou Bellamy

Assistant Directed and Choreographed by Patdro Harris

UnitedHealth Group Stage

January 23 – March 18, 2018

Best enjoyed by everyone

Creative Team & Production Staff

Director:  Lou Bellamy

Assistant Director and Choreographer: Patdro Harris

Music Director: Sanford Moore

Set Designer:  Vicki Smith

Costume Designer: Mathew LeFebvre

Lighting Designer: Don Darnutzer

Sound Designer: Sten Severson

Projections Designer: Craig Gottschalk

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  1. I think I remember her from American Idol. She’s found her niche.
    I bet everyone on stage is exhausted after that play ends.

  2. That sounds like a great adaptation. For some reason, this is the first I’d heard of it–hadn’t even heard of the movie before, and with that many big stars, you’d think I would have.

    I must be the only person on earth who’s never really gotten into The Wizard of Oz. The story never appealed to me, but if I were to watch a live theatre version, this is the one I’d pick.

    Great review, Mary.