The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools.
Since its debut in 1939, ”The Wizard of Oz” starring Judy Garland has become a widely popular and highly esteemed film, sporting iconic symbols and characters including Dorothy and her ruby red slippers, the cowardly lion, heartless tin man, brainless scarecrow, yellow brick road, and of course, the ‘great and powerful’ Oz.
The storyline delivers the heartwarming message that dreams do come true with hope and is wonderfully produced and executed, but also lacking in two areas: humor and glam.
Humor and glam were definitely not overlooked in “The Wiz,” a stage adaptation of the film, in fact they are its foundation. Sure, the OLSH production starts out like any ordinary high school musical, following the traditional Wizard of Oz storyline (Dorothy, Toto, Aunt Em, a tornado, and suddenly we’re not in Kansas anymore) but upon arrival in Oz, Dorothy (Iva Nowakowski) finds herself greeted by a colorful and enthusiastic group of munchkins and an over-the-top, fashionable, and exuberant Addaperle (Ashley Sitarik), (think Effie from the Hunger Games) contrasting with the opening of the original story in which Glinda greets Dorothy upon her arrival.
Nowakowski’s passion for her character and devotion to her part were clearly evident in her powerful voice, especially during THE classic and iconic song, “Ease on Down the Road,” which was performed more than once throughout the night. After Dorothy expresses her desire to return home, Addaperle advises her to visit the wonderful Emerald City, in which the great wizard resides and will assist her. With a few waves of her magical wand, Addaperle -- does not vanish! Yes folks, Addaperle takes the bus instead, claiming to have been having quite a few wand malfunctions as of late. Her very boisterous and candid personality captured the entire audience, including myself, early on.
As she continues her journey, Dorothy meets Scarecrow (Rachel Cahalan) and they soon encounter Tinman (John Wojtechko) whom they oil back to health whilst learning the story of his unlucky axe, culprit of the loss of various body parts substituted with tin replacements. In the midst of his tale, Scarecrow asks the question we were all thinking: at no point did it occur to you to just get a new axe?”
Final member of the journey is schizophrenic, sassy lion (Zane Travis) who refers to Dorothy as “li’l mamma” and justifies his cowardly demeanor as king of the jungle by commenting that “you don’t see anyone else begging for the gig, do ya sweetie?” He is undoubtedly the Diva, leaving me unable to stop laughing during much of the performance.
Upon arriving at Emerald City, or should I say, “Big Green Apple” (which very much reminded me of the capitol from “The Hunger Games” in its outlandish fashion), the foursome is exposed to a group of extravagantly dressed and condescending citizens and snarky Wiz Brian Hammel who “does as he pleases” and agrees to grant the group’s wishes upon the death of Evillene (Jennifer Haseleu) the Wicked Witch of the West who enters the musical from an outhouse… how charming.
She, of course, is killed, in a scene that was best put into words by the lion: “you could say the old lady was liquidated” (ba dum tsss).
Everything, of course, ends happily and all wishes are granted, but it is the unexpected events, small jokes, puns, and often wry humor that made the musical more than enjoyable for the audience. The impeccable scenery and creative costuming also played a huge role in this musical’s success, as well as the personalities of the cast, including the ensemble, which perfectly complimented the characters they embodied.
Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson. For more high school musicals coverage, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/theater-dance/ and scroll down.