July 19, 2007

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Ease on down the road
The Wiz keeps you smiling
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Iíll admit, I was a little worried about what I was in for during the opening scene of The Wiz at the Majestic Theatre in Manchester Saturday, July 14. It started slow. Aunt Em seemed unsure of her lines. In retrospect, the havoc was probably due to the dog that wasnít very interested in playing Toto. I relaxed as soon as Maria Johnson (Aunt Em) started singing ďThe Feeling We Once Had,Ē with ease and style. The show just got better. Bobby Mercier, who played the Scarecrow, is an incredibly talented hip hop dancer.

Mercier, Zachary Valentine Brandon as the Tinman and Bruce Williams as the Lion kept the audience laughing, applauding or just generally making noise. Williamsí physical comedy stole scenes.

The Wiz is one of those shows that introduces several new characters who have to give strong solo performances, and the Majestic delivered. Allan McPherson pulled a show-stopping number as the Wiz. Saphaedra Renee channeled Motown as bad witch Evillene. Danielle Lussier had some great duets and solos as Dorothy. Director and choreographer Candace Glickman seemed to actually cast a spell as Glinda. But then, the former Miss NH has practice wearing tiaras. The kids playing the Munchkins were young enough to be cute, but old enough to have attitude.

Overall the leads were amazing as singers and dancers. Glickman made movement a high priority in this production. Mercier did double duty as assistant hip-hop choreographer. The hip-hop infusions made both acting and dance fluid and exact. Tap and ballet were also prevalent. The show uses a corps of dancers to transition and represent various aspects, including the Yellow Brick Road. Devann Glickman stood out as a lead dancer.

This is a great show for kids because thereís nothing in it to offend them and it has that great lesson at the end about believing in yourself. Yet these actors give the show so much style that itís still fun for adults. Even if you donít have a child to entertain, the Motown score is reason to go. That plus the hip-hop makes this much, much less Broadway than your average musical. This is, however, the stage version, not based on the film that featured Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.

The plot seemed squeezed, though. For instance, doesnít it seem odd that a girl lost after a tornado would happily don a pair of silver shoes off the feet of a dead evil witch who the girl just accidentally killed?

If you go, keep in mind that Majestic is a community theater. Not all ensemble performers look as confident and practiced as the leads. Some orchestra players are students. The number of costume changes is ambitious, but some outfits looked like thrift store finds or items that actors had been told to bring from home. Some of the sets looked like they had been an afternoon project at drama camp, but what can you do? Unless someone were to make a gift of thousands of dollars, it would be hard to make sets and costumes look professional for a show like The Wiz in community theater.

See The Wiz July 20, 21, 27 or 28 at 8 p.m., or July 22 or 29 at 2 p.m. at 281 Cartier St. in Manchester. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $10 for youth under 17, and $13 for seniors on Sundays. Call 669-7469 or visit majestictheatre.net.