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The KeyBank Broadway Series production of ‘THE WIZ’ is Broadway




When it comes to theater, the people of Northeast Ohio are exceptionally blessed. We enjoy over a dozen superb local theaters giving us a wide choice of shows throughout the year. Combine that with a we have a downtown theater district that is the second largest performing arts center in the United States (only Lincoln Center in New York City is larger). This gives us a huge degree of clout when it comes to signing top rated entertainment.


The most recent example is the KeyBank Broadway Series touring production of “THE WIZ” as it makes its way across the country to its scheduled opening on Broadway on April 17, 2024. We are the show’s second stop in the 13-city tour after its opening in Baltimore. This show is a carbon copy of what you would expect to see in New York City on the Great White Way but at much lower ticket prices. It will be here for an incredible eighteen show performance run in the Connor Palace Theatre.


The musical first saw the light of stage way back in 1975 with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and book by William F. Brown. It is an adjusted story of the L. Frank Baum 1900 classic “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” but danced and sung in the manner of contemporary African-American styles of the 70s. It uses all manner of music from rock to pop to blues to gospel. The original Broadway production won seven Tony Awards that included Best Musical. Since then it has seen numerous revivals worldwide as well as the 1978 major feature film that starred Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsy Russel, Richard Pryor, Lena Horne and Mabel King.


After the tragic death of her mother, Dorothy (Nichelle Lewis) is sent to live with her Aunt Em (Melody A. Betts) and Uncle Henry on their farm in Kansas (unfortunately, Toto did not make the cut). Dorothy feels completely alienated in her new surroundings and is having problems adjusting to her new high school, home and life. Her dream is to escape this boring farm existence and fly away to see exotic far off lands.


Her wish is granted when a tornado (portrayed by a team of dancers) sweeps through the Kansas countryside taking the young girl and her house up into the sky, landing it in a field of flowers. The house has landed on Evamean, the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her. The citizens of Munchkinland (dressed in colorful outfits) are celebrating the witches death with a mock eulogy as they dish the corpse telling how mean she was.


Addaperle (Allyson Kaye Daniel), The Good Witch of the North appears and tries to bring Dorothy up to date. Dorothy has landed in The Land of Oz. Since she has killed Evamean she is rewarded the witches silver shoes and warned never to take them off until she returns home to Kansas for they hold powerful magic. As the Munchkins and Good Witch depart, Dorothy is confused and distressed. It is suggested she follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City where she can seek the help of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz (aka “THE WIZ”). Dorothy is also introduced to Glinda (Deborah Cox), The Good Witch of the South.


Dorothy goes dancing down the yellow brick road where in quick succession she meets a talking but brainless scarecrow (Avery Wilson), a rusted tinman (Phillip Johnson Richardson) without a heart and a cowardly lion (Kyle Ramar Freeman). The quartet forms an unlikely powerful team that manages to survive a number of trials on their journey to the city and their meeting with THE WIZ (Alan Mingo, Jr.). Their adversary is Evillene (Melody A. Betts), the Wicked Witch of the West. In effect, they learn that what they are seeking they already have and all they have to do is believe in themselves.


Without a doubt, this is Broadway at its finest. The constantly changing stage sets by Hannah Beachler, elaborate costumes by Sharen Davis, music by Charlie Smalls, choreography by Jaquel Knight, lighting design by Ryan J. O’Gara and sound design by Jon Weston is theatrical perfection. The twelve piece orchestra fills the theater with wall to wall and floor to ceiling sound that sweeps you along.


As for the actors, each one is a triple threat of singing, dancing and acting. Of special note is Melody Betts who plays both Aunt Em and Evillene and has stirring musical numbers in both roles. Phillip Johnson Richardson as the tinman does an amazing job of dancing in his role as well as Avery Wilson as the scarecrow. The ensembles representing the tornado, Munchkinland citizens, crows, poppies, Ozians and Winkies are absolutely superb.


Be sure to watch out for the clever “blackisms” such as, Dorothy, “What are you looking for, Aun Em?” “”I be trying to see who you be talking to like that.”, Addaperlle, “She so flat, instead of a coffin we goin’ to send her off in a manilla envelope.” and lastly, Evillene after Dorthy begs her to lift the spell, “I don’t have to do anything but stay black and die.”


This show encapsulates all that is great about African-American influenced theater. On opening night each and every song elicited applause from the audience and had people dancing in their seats. The show is exciting and fast moving and quite suited for older children (teens). Groove on down the road and see this masterpiece!


The KeyBank Broadway Series touring production of “THE WIZ” will be on stage in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio through October 22, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.playhousesquare.org/ or call (216) 241-6000.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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