The Wiz blows into the Windy City before Broadway

Thu. November 30, 2023 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn

The cast of The Wiz is singing “Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News,” but unfortunately there's some stormy weather in this particular production. The pre-Broadway premiere of the musical is worth seeing though thanks to some outstanding moments and staying for the second act is a requirement to see the cast slay in green garmets.

When the show embraces its 1978 roots at the beginning of act two with the “Emerald City Sequence” audiences will be rewarded for being patient during the over two-hour running time.

This twisted tale rolls out slowly as young Dorothy, played by Nichelle Lewis, faces a tornado of dancers that whisk her off to the magical world of Oz.

She is guided by Glinda, portrayed by the Canadian Whitney Houston powerhouse vocalist Deborah Cox, to follow the yellow brick road to find the Emerald City and possibly return home to her Aunt Em, who is played by Chicago performer Melody Betts.

Dorothy encounters various characters such as a spunky scarecrow, a man made of tin and a flamboyant lion along the way. Poor Toto must have been too troublesome as he winds up on the cutting room floor.

In this quirky quartet, Dorothy wears silver slippers , not red, to “Ease on Down the Road” while targeting the narcissist Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West who runs a sweatshop. At the risk of being incinerated, not everything works in The Wiz.

What starts off as a bumpy ride that eventually quells into “A Brand New Day” with colorful costumes and a rainbow of talent. There are many out-and-proud performers in this cast such as Alan Mingo, Jr. is The Wiz until Wayne Brady blows his house down in January as a replacement for the Broadway engagement. Both of those actors have played Lola in Kinky Boots and the character screams Billy Porter in every way. Mingo makes magic for the unforgettable number  “Everybody Rejoice" and Cox croons for two cameos all dressed in gold.

Sometimes The Wiz meows when it should roar, but thanks to a slick set that includes video projections, bright costumes that especially pop for the Poppy people and some out-of-this-world high notes sprinkled throughout this North American Tour is something to seek out.

Lewis has her standout moments in the second half resulting in a satisfying finale. Wilson as Scarecrow makes the part his own with a little extra hay, gurl, hay and Philip Johnson Richardson is a well-oiled machine with outstanding dance moves and a heartfelt solo in the second act.

The references used in the new text from Amber Ruffin range from the show's origins to modern jokes, including The Color Purple among others. This device sometimes takes viewers out of the storyline, but the cast handles that task smoothly.  

When the queens within the cast serve attitude through ballroom moves and pose onstage The Wiz simply soars. By shortening some of the duller moments in the first part, friends of Dorothy will travel to Oz faster and enjoy what makes this important musical so special.

Things may evolve more as The Wiz spins off to New York after December 10, 2023. Visit before the team eases on down the road to the city that never sleeps.