The Wiz

Book by William F Brown, music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls
West Yorkshire Playhouse in collaboration with Birmingham Repertory Theatre
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
(2011)

The Wiz production photo

The Wiz is a Seventies African-American rewrite of The Wizard of Oz, set in New York originally with an all black cast. The score zings from pounding heights to the dreary depths of those belting but slow sung prose dirges that have passed for 'the serious' numbers in pop musicals for the last half century. Luckily there are enough of the former to more than compensate for the latter. And in this UK production the dancing is brilliant - so is the wardrobe.

This production has core actors who shine like the stars they are likely to become. Names should be named. As Scarecrow, Wayne Robinson dances and sings superbly, repeatedly bringing to mind Gene Kelly at the top of his game. More than this, he brings an elegance and depth to the role which, like all the rest, can so easily be a stereotype. As does Horace Oliver to the role of Tinman. Oliver has a brilliant, joyful comedic presence, his performance alone makes the show worthwhile.

But there is more, Robinson and Oliver work their socks off and grace the night, but the whole company, including a troop of local young performers, form a big-hearted bedrock of talent. You have to forget the original movie and its glorious songs. Not easy in the first scene. But once Scarcrow is freed from his tree (where we find him dangling like Strange Fruit - there is a deft black experience angle, non-didactic and moving) the show erupts. The full house, all ages, loved it. The Wiz ain't no swiz.

Running until 16th July

Iain James Finlayson reviewed this production in Birmingham

Reviewer: Ray Brown