Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Wiz"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Marissa J. Dixon

"The Wiz"

Reviewed by Marissa J. Dixon

Imagine this: A grunge Scarecrow; a techno Tin Man; a Lion who is The King; Dorothy in a modern but, of course, gingham-blue sundress; and citizens of Oz who are at the height of Vogue fashion in their emerald-green couture.

Better yet, don't just imagine it; go see "The Wiz," produced by the Boston Theater Bridge. The show has a warm glow to it, as if it's been charmed by magical direction and a perfect cast. The group successfully updated the show, both in lyrics and style, and the costume work of Jennifer Condon is delightfully clever: She evokes the traditional look of "The Wizard of Oz," while being modern at the same time.

The makeup design by Dan Gravely and Atia DeRosa also warrants notice. Everyone in the cast looks great; in particular, the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow sport makeup that is complex yet seamless and believable.

The band, under the direction of Jason Whiting, never misses a beat. The musicians keep up with the frenzy on stage, but never overpower the actors. Particularly impressive is the Tornado scene, a raucous musical number that allows the complicated and chaotic storm onstage (brilliantly choreographed by Jennifer Condon) to come alive.

Taken altogether, then, this show has excellent production values -- although a sad- looking hot air balloon in Act 2 detracts from an otherwise hip, glittery minimalist set. However, this is NOT one of those shows that relies on its outward glitz and glitter to mask weaknesses, as is too often the case. In fact, the performances here are top-notch, directed expertly by veteran Scott Gagnon. He seems to have gotten the most out of his actors, who are are completely believable in their roles; I, for one, lost myself in their performances.

In fact, Sarah Consentino as Dorothy, Joe Breen as Scarecrow, Marlon Dashawn Smith as Tin Man, and Greg Hildreth as the Lion could carry the show on their own. Whenever these four are on stage together, their chemistry is undeniable; they definitely bring Oz to the audience. (I think this hold true even if they were in a different production, dressed in tacky 70s clothes and surrounded by rubble.) They accomplish this through their touchingly believable acting, with many poignant moments; their energetic dancing, well-choreographed by Jennifer Condon; and, most of all, their incredible singing. Consentino, in particular, displays a versatility of voice that is unrivaled; the styles she sings in range from low, throaty blues to high, bright pop, and include everything inbetween. It seems that in this performance alone, she has proven that she can sing nearly any role she chooses.

Other performers are also very enjoyable. Kristen Kovolski as Evilene, the Wicked Witch of the West, offeres evil in a very un-Nell-Carter-like way; as the head of Evilene Technologies, she keeps her employees very, very unhappy, despite their cool red and black pleather clothes and their nifty cell phones. The night I attended, there were a few slight but well-covered flubs from The Wiz himself (Bill Allsbrook), but his performance is so energetic and credible that I, for one, readily forgave his errors. Kristen Smith, Sarah Farley, and Stephen Markarian as the Munchkins are every bit as good as the adults, and Thea, a beautiful chocolate-colored dog, is a big, sweet Toto. (When reunited at the end, Toto coveres Dorothy's face in big wet kisses.)

All in all, then, this show is a fun romp through a land of Emerald fantasy. Although it's hard to tell from only one show, I suspect that they are the best new community theater in Greater Boston in quite a while. Boston Theater Bridge's production of The Wiz is a delighfully good time, earnestly fun for the whole family. Don't miss it!

"The Wiz" (till 25 August)
Riverside Theater Works, HYDE PARK, MA
1 (617) 983-1818

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide