I thought I was going to just "Ease on Down the Road” Friday night when I went to see “The Wiz” at the Cape Cod Theatre Company, home of the Harwich Junior Theatre, but instead I was blown away like the tornado that touched down in Kansas!
A fantastic cast of 17 adults and children under James P. Byrne’s innovative direction with Robert Wilder’s musical know-how and four (yes four!) equally innovative choreographers take Cape audiences on a wild musical journey down that yellow brick road in Charlie Smalls and William Brown’s “soul music” version of the classic “Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum.
Strong performances and a creative production team power the play and make it worth seeing more than once. Haley Kelsey hits all the right notes as Dorothy. Kelsey captures Dorothy’s wide-eyed wonder, empathy for others and the fight for right we all recognize and love in this well-known character. The closing number with Dorothy alone in the spotlight, “Home,” was powerful and wonderfully sung by the singer/actor.
The Munchkins (Orla Delaney, Jarrett Strzepek and Tyler Brackett) are hilarious and brought the biggest and best laughs from the opening night audience. I won’t spoil Byrne’s (who is also the show’s set designer) novel approach for portraying the diminutive folk but these three actors master it with expressive faces and spot-on coordination. Here Addaperle, one of Oz’s witches (an animated Emily Kosoff) sings “He’s the Wiz,” and Dorothy realizes she needs to go to Emerald City to find her way home. So Dorothy and Toto (an adorable Olivia Thompson) are off singing and dancing their way to the Emerald City literally following Yellow Brick Road (Emma Fitzpatrick). The talented and versatile Fitzpatrick, in a lovely gold costume created by costume designer Claude Danner, is one to watch.
Soon Dorothy encounters Scarecrow (the charismatic Kellie Crawley), then Tin Man (played with a twinkle in his eye by Terrence Brady) and finally the Cowardly Lion (an imposing Warren Harrington). Heidi Cloutier is convincingly hardcore as the Wicked Witch Evilene; her “No Bad News” was a highlight of the show. Isabelle Archer as Glinda brought thunderous applause with her rendition of “Believe in Yourself” in the second act. LeVane Harrington rules the stage as the Wiz and is a formidable presence in both the musical numbers and pivotal scenes in Dorothy’s journey. Auntie Em (Fabienne Wilcox) and Uncle Henry (Ed Coppola) are gone with the wind in act one but leave a lasting impression.
Each character Dorothy encounters on the yellow brick road is introduced with a song, and each entrance is a spectacular number with backup singers and dancers. Those singers and dancers are these talented folks: Catie Clarke, Aster Conway-Reppert, and return appearances by the actors who portrayed munchkins, witches and others. Choreographers Terry Norgeot, Suzette Hutchinson, Lisa Canto and Joanne Callum Powers insert their unique and individual styles and add another wow factor to the production numbers. J Hagenbuckle (sound) and David Wilson (lighting) with their specific techniques added a layer of richness to the show. Musical director Wilder (keyboard) and his orchestra – Tony Stevens, clarinet and alto sax; Berke McKelvey, clarinet and tenor sax; Mark Van Bork, drums; and Trevor Pearson, bass – sounded great. Stage manager Jack Coughlin, light board operator Shiloh Pabst, stage crew Rachel Simmons along with technical director Matthew Kohler all performed as well back stage and behind the scenes as the performers on the stage.
The play is a condensed version of the familiar and beloved movie “The Wizard of Oz,” and was written originally as a modern, musical version with an all African-American cast. CCTC/HJT has integrated an all-talent cast where skin color isn’t the focus; they only focus on the core of the story: Dorothy’s lesson of love and the comfort of feeling like you’re home.
“Living here in this brand new world might be a fantasy,
But it's taught me to love, so it's real to me.
And I've learned that we must look inside our hearts to find
A world full of love like yours and mine…Like home.”
Get your tickets now as this show is sure to be a sell-out, especially with this cosmic blessing that the theater’s artistic director Nina Schuessler pointed out. The show opened on a full moon night with an emerald green comet blazing through the sky. What could be more appropriate than that? It’s perfect for the entire family and an easy sit for the young ones. The fast-paced and colorful production is only a little over 90 minutes with an intermission.
At Cape Cod Theatre Company, Home of the Harwich Junior Theatre
Through March 12, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., vacation matinees Feb. 21 and 22 at 2 p.m.
Information and reservations: 508-432-2002, www.capecodtheatrecompany.org