ALHAMBRA THEATRE AND DINING REVIEW
DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM [email protected]
The Alhambra Theatre opened William F. Brown’s retelling of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” on March 23, 2016. The story is one that most children have grown up with, having read the book, and/or seen the film or stage musical. “The Wiz” is a super soul musical from an African-American perspective.
“The Wiz,” a winner of seven Tony Awards including one for the best musical, had an interesting beginning, as it was almost the Wiz that never was. The musical with book by William F. Brown and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls opened in Baltimore in 1974; the sole sponsor was the Twentieth-Century-Fox film company, who put up $780,000 for the show. Sales were poor, but rather than closing, Fox added another $150,000, changed the director and most of the cast, and followed the yellow brick road to the Big Apple. While critics for New York daily newspapers did not like the musical, reviewers from Newsweek, Time, Newsday and other weekly publications wrote rave reviews. The production went on to a run of four years, with over 1,600 performances. The musical remains popular with today’s audiences, as you will see and hear at the Alhambra.
“The Wiz” follows the original story in its unique retelling. Yes, Dorothy (in a dynamite performance by newcomer Alexis D. Tidwell) is caught up in a tornado and journeys to the Emerald City to see the Wizard and ask for his help in returning to her home in Kansas. Have you ever wondered if a tornado could be choreographed? Choreographer James Kinney has half a dozen dynamic dancers portray its power, in a performance that will leave you breathless (as will all the dance numbers). And Dorothy’s travel companions shine. J. None as the Scarecrow is loose-limbed and a dancing fool. Peter M. Jackson as the Lion and James Webb as the Tinman are both very funny and also perform vocal magic with their songs and powerful trained voices.
Director/Producer Tod Booth has cast outstanding singers and dancers laden with talent in this show. The rhythm and blues score is a collection of rock, gospel, blues, and ballads, all magnificently sung and interpreted.
You had best be sitting comfortably and have fastened your seat belt, at the start of second act, when Tarra Conner Jones, an Alhambra favorite from its past production of “The Color Purple,” appears as the evil Evillene. She wears a dress in a blinding red, which matches her red hair, and raises the roof with the song “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” Ms. Jones has a commanding presence and a rich musical voice with a vast range.
You don’t really get to know the Wizard until the second act, but his portrayal by Darryl Reuben Hall is well worth the wait. Mr. Hall has an impressive resume filled with performances in New York and up and down the East Coast. And what a Wiz he is!! Hall did this role at the American Stage in Tampa in 2014 and received rave reviews. Thanks to the dedication of Mr. Hall and his family, the Northwest section of the city has enjoyed live theatre for many years through the Stage Aurora Theatrical Company, which he founded.
Rounding out this exceptional cast in featured roles are: Cherry Hamlin (Aunt Em and Glinda), Akia Uwanda (Addaperle), and Jereme Raickett (Royal Gate Keeper and Underling). The outstanding ensemble includes J’royce Jata, Khalifa White, Linzy Lauren, Jeremy Willliams, Patrick Marshall Jr., Jamil Abdur-Rahman, Savannah Roy, and Eric Witherspoon.
The costumes by the Costume Crew (Camela Pitts & Dorinda Quiles), are for the most part are very colorful. We loved the use of tie-dyes, although we thought the Wizard’s suit seemed overly conservative for such a flamboyant con man.
The set design by Dave Dionne and Ian Black used mainly an open stage for all that dancing, while their Emerald City had a utopian look with a lot of green.
The Alhambra Production Crew includes Tod Booth (Director), James Kinney (Choreographer), Alex Nordin (Associate Choreographer), Cathy Murphy Giddens (Musical Director), Jason Nettle (Stage Manager), Darryl Ruben Hall (Assistant Stage Manager), Jeremy Williams (Dance Captain), The Costume Crew (Costumes), Dave Dionne and Ian Black (Set Designers), and Patty Pitts (Wig Design).
The show, which runs through April 24, is high-energy, high-spirited, and filled with fantasy, dancing, and exceptional voices. The Alhambra is located at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. For reservations call (904) 641-1212. And of note: Up next is Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.”