Eleventh of a series

NEW YORK –  Gee, Wiz. The latest revival of the black musical, based on L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” tosses convention out of the window.

Change is good, yes, but familiarity breeds the comfort  you feel at home.

So, click your heels, and explore “The Wiz,” playing through Aug. 8 at the Marquis Theatre in the Marquis Hotel. It’s lively, with lots of pops of color in neon costumes that brighten but not necessarily heighten the glee.

Nichelle Lewis makes a credible Broadway debut as Dorothy, in this retelling, but she is challenged with trying to project her numbers to reach the huge theater. I attended a matinee, jammed with black fans, with many women dressed to the nines in sequined red caps, blouses, pants and skirts. Almost like the twinkles spilled off the stage and into the house.

Meet Lion (Kyle Lamar Freeman), Dorothy (Nichelle Lewis), Tinman (Phillip Johnson Richardson) and Scarecrow (Avery Wilson).

With a new book by William F. Brown, with additional material from Amber Ruffin, there are subtractions and additions, possibly providing something for everyone, old and new.

Happily, Charlie Small’s music is retained, and yes, and tunes like “Ease on Down the Road,” “Believe in Yourself,” and “Home” are treasured anchors. It would have been wicked to eliminate these classics.

Dorothy here has left the ‘hood to live with her Aunt Em (Melody A.  Betts) in Kansas because of discomfort and bullying by her peers. Don’t recall this element in earlier versions. FYI, Betts shows up as the evil witch, Evillene, later in the show.

The Tornado is a “character,” featuring seven dancers whirling and twirling.

Of course, a tornado whirls and twirls and blows Dorothy afar.  In a singular breathtaking sequence, Tornada – a “character,” featuring a corps of seven dancers, clad in gray  fabric “wings” resembling land-locked manta rays spinning and fueling wind and rain. It’s a stunning moment of choreography conjoined with light, sound and special effects.

Jeepers, leapers: The Scarecrow (Avery Wilson) is acrobatic.

This thing-as-characters style, however, is not necessarily  effective, with four dancers in yellow uniforms, serving as The Yellow Brick Road, but look like soldiers. But they do soldier the movement after Dorothy meets and engages in the lives of the Scarecrow (Avery Wilson, agile and acrobatic, in need of a brain), the Tinman (Phillip Johnson Richardson, cheerfully hearty, but nonetheless aching for a heart) and the Lion (Kyle Lamar Freeman, nervous and fearful, but eager to discover courage).

Midway in the show, Wayne Brady projects rhythm and style as the Wiz;  he’s not feared in this playout. His exit is better than his entrance…

The good witch, Glinda (Deborah Cox) is bathed in gold, the hue of grandness.

Evillene has an army of poppies in the Emerald City.

Oh, and I don’t know the protocol, re Dorothy’s slippers/shoes. They’re silver here, not red.

Another oh. There’s no Toto in this show;  animal lovers should protest!…

And that’s Show Biz…

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