Premiering last Thursday night, March 31, in the SCC Theater was Brandeis Ensemble Theater’s production of “The Wiz.” “The Wiz” is an all-black musical based on the book of the same name by William F. Brown, and it is a version of the original “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” with the story deeply rooted in African American culture. Co-directed by Naya Stevens ’16 and D’Andre Young ’16, co-produced by Kristin Taylor ’17 and Solomon McBride ’18 and stage managed by Aja Antoine ’17, the show drew in a large and enthusiastic crowd on its opening night.
The story of “The Wiz” is very similar to the original “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” though there are a few difference, such as different songs, changes in a few names and the addition of a character, Addaperle, the Witch of the North, played by Minnie Norgaisse ’19. In this production of “The Wiz” many dance scenes were also included, much to the audience’s pleasure, as it displayed an amazing array of talent from the dancers at Brandeis. The four lead characters of the show, Dorothy (Xaviera Sargeant ’16), Scarecrow (Kristen Ward-Chalk ‘16), Tin Man (Makalani Na’im Mack ’16), and the Lion (Tawanna Johnson ’16) each sang a song upon the introduction of their character, and one can certainly appreciate the hard work that went into the preparation for their roles as the vocals were astounding, especially since nearly every song included long and powerful notes.
In my opinion, one of the best aspects of the production was definitely the set, designed by Chinyere Brown ’17 and assisted by Justus Davis ’19. Having been to several Brandeis productions, I have rarely seen the level of artistry and cohesiveness that has gone into the set of “The Wiz.” Large backdrops were painted for the Land of Oz, the “scarecrow’s field” and the Emerald City, as well as two general flats that were present throughout most of the show. The background for the Land of Oz was bright and cheerful, reflecting the mood of the scenes that transpired there, with colorful houses and paths painted across several flats. In the first scene after Dorothy lands in Oz, paper lanterns were lowered onto the set, and the inhabitants of Oz wore flamboyant and pastel-colored costumes, creating a wonderfully unified color scheme for the show. The Emerald City also had a well-designed set, the dominating color being green, of course, but the crew did well matching the costumes (Amanda Anderson ’17, Carmen Lopez-Landaverde ’19, Consuelo Pereira-Lazo ’19, Deborah Fataki ’19, Justus Davis ’19 and Queen White ’16) and lighting (Micaela Kiley ’16 and Zak Kolar ’18) to the scene.
While its opening night was undoubtedly a success, and the massive audience that filled the SCC Theater commended the performance with a standing ovation, there were a few technical difficulties that could not be overlooked. Most notably, as it persisted with several of the actors throughout the show, was the issue of head mics falling out of place. The durability of the tape holding the mics to the sides of the actor’s faces was not quite strong enough to match the rigorous movement of the play, causing the actors to have to adjust the falling devices almost constantly. Another quite conspicuous mishap of the production was set pieces being removed by techies during the scene, either because the curtain raised before their job could be completed, or because set pieces were (apparently) forgotten. However, since there was probably much anxiety and excitement surrounding the show’s premiere, I’m sure these blips will be quickly resolved in time for the next performances.
The most exciting and refreshing differences between “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and “The Wiz” is the music, which has been tailored to the rich, powerful voices that black vocalists often wield with awe-inspiring grace. While the cast of this production of “The Wiz” were all splendidly talented, one voice stood out in its sheer mastery of the long, bold notes of the song—that of Nyah Macklin ’16, as she played Glinda. After receiving much applause upon her entry on stage she continued to blow the audience away with her breath-taking vocals, receiving even more applause after each powerful note. As the first African-American woman Student Union President at Brandeis, Macklin proves that she is a force to be reckoned with both on and off the stage.
“The Wiz” has received much acclaim since its first opening in Maryland in 1974. It quickly moved to Broadway in 1975, where it was awarded seven Tony awards that same year. In addition to serving as an early example of Broadway’s acceptance of all-black casts, the play was then made into a film in 1978, featuring big names like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. The Brandeis production of “The Wiz” will continue through April 3, so be sure to check it out.