Wiz biz

The Wiz (Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

December 5 – 7

“The Wiz” is a rarely seen but resplendent stage musical that offers a heart-warming tale told in a unique way. Despite playing for four years on Broadway, the retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in the context of modern African-American culture is perhaps best known for its film version starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, meaning that the talented graduating students from the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts have some big shoes to fill in their production… which they do.

The story is a familiar and formulaic one that introduces each new character with a solo, presented with a twists as much as a twister in this production. Dorothy (Serina O’Connor), a restless Cairns girl is transported by a tornado (if Australia had tornados) to a magical outback world of Oz where Munchkins, a sassy Witch of the North (Kelsey Lynn) and a yellow brick road appear alongside the Sturt Dessert Peas of its landscape. On her way to the Emerald City to meet the Wiz (Jamaine Wilsemith), who she believes can help her get back home, Dorothy befriends a Scarecrow (Selwyn Powers), Tinman (Gara Doolah) and Cowardly Lion (Garret Lyon) who help her battle the Wicked Witch of the West, Evilene (Michaella Stubbs)

The energetic production is certainly brimming with talent from those about to enter the biz. Powers is a charismatic straw-filled scarecrow, filling the role with warmth and humour as he lithely limbers about the place. Lyon finds plenty of laughs as a camp cowardly lion; he is always-in role down to the smallest of details and his sass lands perfectly thanks to his precise comic timing. Tinman Doolah has a beautiful voice, even if it is under articulated in his ‘Slide Some Oil to Me’ solo and O’Connor is a delightful Dorothy, with stellar vocals highlighted in ‘Be a Lion’. And when the four leads progressively rally together to ‘Ease On Down the Road, one of the show’s most recognisable tunes, likely due to Diana Ross and Michael Jackson’s iconic partnership in the 1978 movie, the result is quite wonderful.

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As a simple, well-executed song ‘Ease On Down the Road’ is an ongoing, catchy highlight in its every reprise and it aptly represents the Motown feel to many of the score’s numbers. In fact, there is an almost ‘80s pep to its realisation, weaved through its multi-generic musical moods. Michaella Stubbs delivers a punchy gospel-esque number in ‘Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News’ and Kayci-Lee Gillies slays Glinda’s assurance to Dorothy about the power of self-belief, ‘If You Believe’, making us wish the Good Witch of the South could have more stage-time. The singing throughout the show is stellar, with the ensemble also delivering an infectiously buoyantly joyous ‘Everybody Rejoice’ spirited celebration of freedom.

“The Wiz” is a dance-filled musical and in this regard this production is also particularly impressive. Modernised routines within the structure of musical theatre are enlivened by strong capable dancers and dynamically diverse choreography (Director and Choreographer Simon Lind) meaning that a suggestive poppy field number complementing its metaphor sits comfortably alongside a contrasting flying monkey rap number, ‘Funky Monkey’. And costuming also works in support of the choreographic representation of the twister that dances Dorothy into the wonderful fantasy world.

Dramatic costuming also serves to channel touches of Hunger Games capitol wear to the munchkins and Emerald City citizens, while Glenn Hughes’ clever lighting recreates the yellow brick road to be followed towards a lushly silhouetted city. There is also attention to detail evident in the script, which features an Aussie-flavoured modern twist even to its throw-away lines, which is from where much of the humour comes.

While Act Two drags a little, overall, this urbanised retelling of the Oz story is still a high-spirited, engaging showcase of the talent of Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts students. Indeed, there is a strong focus on stagecraft that makes for an entertaining experience, whether it be your first or subsequent ease on down its road.

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