The Wiz comes to CMU

The Wiz, directed by sophomore English major Danielle Griswold, opened on the stage of Rangos to the students, parents, and young children all attending Carnival 2005. This show had the complicated task of entertaining and capturing the hearts of these three distinct audiences over the course of four performances. Individual character work by Griswold and junior history major Laurel Brierly, choreography by H&SS first-year Breanna Zwart, and music arranged by sophomore BHA student Adam Jaffe confronted the formidable task of bringing to life this new twist to the classic The Wizard of Oz. It was executed well by the talented cast, but the most widespread comment about the show was merely ?it was good? ? implying that the show left something to be desired.

One of the most notable characteristics of the musical was the jazzy ?70s music. The 10-piece orchestra of music majors that Jaffe put together demanded the audience?s attention. The audience couldn?t help but fall in love with the pit orchestra, because often that was all they could hear. Most lyrics, in particular those of minor characters, were drowned out by the pit. The audience strained to discern words, even those of singers with very powerful voices. Unfortunately, the designated pit singers, who were included in every song either in each scene or off to the side, were no match for the formidable pit. For example, Auntie Em, played by Carmen Jackson, lost half the opening song to their music. The pit continued to overpower characters throughout the show, compromising the message of subsequent songs.

This did not help the fact that the show itself is written like a recital of fun songs and dances with a bit of plot loosely tying them together. The show is of course a jazzy remake of the original Wizard of Oz, but the plot hardly permeated into the new songs and dances. It seemed like the storyline would stop when a song began, and then continue after the song ended. For example, in the original Wizard of Oz, as well as in The Wiz, scores of Emerald City citizens bid farewell to the Wizard as he departs back to the real world in his balloon, leaving poor Dorothy behind. In this production, the song leading up to the Wiz?s climactic exit did not seem to emphasize the importance of the Wiz to the Emerald City?s citizens, but rather the dance ability of the cast. The citizens danced in straight lines, looking straight out at the audience, smiling blankly as their beloved Wiz left them forever. Promptly after the Wiz left, the plot continued, focusing on Dorothy, seemingly stranded in Oz.

The very ending of the show seemed to reflect negatively on the show as a whole. Dorothy just found out from the good witches how she could get home. She lovingly said goodbye to her three friends, and sang her happiness that she would finally be able to go home. The lights dimmed climactically, the music swelled, and she finally clicked her heels together three times. The lights went to blackout, signifying that she had made it, but then suddenly came right back up again, revealing Dorothy standing there, staring at the audience. This made it seem as though the last breath of the show was to see our young heroine turn and walk off a naked stage, musicless, in flat white light. The audience always remembers the first thing and the last thing they see in a show, and this did not seem like a suitable way to end the suspense.

What the show may have lacked in cohesion between plot and song, though, it made up for in the individual character work of the supporting actors. Dorothy, played by sophomore English major Kami Smith, was the stereotypical Shirley Temple?esque little girl: she made her way through the fantastic Land of Oz innocently befriending the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man with a sweet demeanor that never faded. The Scarecrow, played by sophomore English major Courtney Kochuba, had the most charismatic entrance: her first cocky grin at Dorothy, as well as her graceful but choreographed clumsy motions summed up the clever and fun-loving Scarecrow perfectly. The only fault here was the fact that the Scarecrow was cast to a female. She pulled off the character with ease, but the songs were written for a male voice, and the notes were clearly scraping at the bottom of her vocal range. The Tin Man, meanwhile, was played by architecture fifth-year Yu Hsien Chia. Chia didn?t have a heart himself, so he stole the audience?s. He bravely defended Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Lion when danger struck, and together with the pit singers, sweetly mused ?If I Could Feel,? expressing how he could be if he only had a heart.

The Wiz himself had a presence that snatched the audience?s attention. Chris Granger, a senior in CS, entered the stage on a huge throne and laughed heartily before addressing the four main characters. His booming voice, thankfully, could be heard anywhere in the theater, and his facial expressions were easily recognizable. The presence was there, yes, but it wasn?t really used. The Wiz had every possibility to really move and take advantage of the mostly empty stage but opted rather to stand firm and tall. Standing still may be stoic, but not always very entertaining.

Evillene, played by junior business administration major Rachel Gross, entered the stage with a presence that rivaled that of the Wiz himself. The Wicked Witch of the West performed a stirring ?No Bad News? to start off the second act to her crew of cowering Winkies. Her voice resonated, and her face reflected her evil nature, but there was something missing in that signature song. The potential showstopper seemed nothing more than an angry woman yelling at her minions. As much as the Winkies cringed and shrank at the sight of the wickedest witch in all of Oz, the number would have done well if they had shown her even more ridiculous servitude, and made their fear of her even more pronounced.

Addaperle was created in this show to be the good witch of the North. Played by Mary Grace Elliott, a sophomore psychology major, this far-out witch had an aloof nature, taking in stride that she would have to take the bus rather than fly on a broomstick. The audience quickly appreciated her quirky ways, with her spells that didn?t quite work, her outrageous fashion sense, and her less-than-charming (but still charismatic) entrance, as if walking into the lives of unsuspecting little girls and telling them trek to The Wiz himself was nothing out of the ordinary.

Taking into regard the past endeavors of Scotch ?n? Soda, this show ranks as one of the better ones. The talented directing staff worked hard with every one of the actors, from the leads to the dancers, to make sure that everyone had the right motivations for each successive scene. It was a challenge to have actors play multiple roles throughout the show, but they pulled through satisfactorily. The singers sang well, and the dancers danced well, but the show still seemed to lack the spark that would make it truly remarkable. The show worked, was worth the three dollar charge, and lived up to the simple audience description; ?it was good.?