‘The Wiz’ was deadly.
In collaboration with Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) have presented an entertaining and energetic rendition of William F. Brown’s ‘The Wiz’. While the original placed the story in the context of late 1970s African-American culture, ACPA’s ‘The Wiz’ incorporated Indigenous Australian cultures and dialects in both a fun and engaging way.
While the Diana Ross and Michael Jackson film adaptation in 1978 was a commercial flop, ‘The Wiz’ quickly became a cult classic for its soulful soundtrack and disco meets urban aesthetics. With numerous Tony Awards, and a recent adaptation on live television starring A-list celebrities, ‘The Wiz’ and its success reflects a positive cultural diversification of musical theatre in the world.
An adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, ‘The Wiz’ follows a young Dorothy Gale as she is swept up by a tornado, kills a couple of witches and takes a long walk with some new friends.
Paying homage to the original context of the show, the set mirrored a disco-era concert. It was static, with raised platforms to the rear, bold light flooding in from the wings, and cityscape as a backdrop. However, a large LED screen embedded in the backdrop emboldened the concert styling, and allowed for a window into the different settings of the musical. At times the scene transitions were lost to wings that were not angled enough to hide the ensemble, but overall the set design was effective.
In recent years there has been a resurgence of steampunk styling for shows like ‘The Wizard of Oz’, so it was a breath of fresh air to see a much more eclectic range of costumes utilised in this piece. While not decade-specific, many of the ensemble were dressed in shabby chic and mismatched attire, which worked well to highlight the madness of the “Land of Oz”. The four leads, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion were given outfits that combined ordinary clothing with eccentric add-ons. For example, Lion wore tan coloured pants and tee, with a larger than life wig and fur jacket.
In addition to the upbeat and colourful styling, was the clever and subtle incorporation of Indigenous Australian cultural components. From the use of natural accent and tongue to the emphasis on certain syllables and some throw-away lines, ‘The Wiz’ has been given new life in a cheeky way, which was mindful not to push too hard on the licensing boundaries. If copyright were non-existent, it would have been invigorating to see this pushed even further.
Director and Choreography, Simon Lind, created some standout dance routines which made good use of the narrow stage, multiple platforms, and challenging wing space. Lind incorporated a range of dance styles, which was well placed given the blend of soul, R&B, disco and pop music in the soundtrack.
In the leading role of Dorothy, Serina O’Connor gave a solid vocal performance. With husky and resilient tones, one could make a comparison between O’Connor and the UK’s Rebecca Ferguson.
Supporting O’Connor was Selwyn Powers as Scarecrow and Gara Doolah as Tinman. Both these gentlemen gave outstanding dance performances, with killer pop and lock dance moves that came to prominence in the 1970s. Both Powers and Doolah held their vocals well, managing the deep baritone notes with ease. At times their microphones did not do them justice, and hopefully later performances in the season will see them shine more.
A standout performance came from Garret Lyon (with a fitting surname) as Lion. With powerful and bold dance, and equally impressive tenor vocals, Lyon was the showstopper for many in the crowd. Supported by wonderfully comedic one-liners and his own ability to manipulate inflections, Lyon nailed the role.
However, the show was stolen by those who often go unnoticed, the ensemble. Quite possibly the best ensemble performance of the year, ‘The Wiz’ was made by its full cast numbers. Lind’s choreography was not only celebrated but given soul by the range of dancers who lived it.
In particular, the tornado sequence starring Nicholas Currie-Inns, Piper Oliver, Damian Mulligan, Hannah Robinson, and Kyle Bond was striking and made for a nice addition to the audiovisual tornado on screen. But even this was no match for the elegance and poise when these performers were joined by Misteria Towler, Jakarni Vea Vea Priestly, Katherine Owens, Tia Attwood, Angelique Giuffre, and Talia Donoghue in the Emerald City scenes. Stylised stage crosses and disco-esque sequences were beat perfect, with the audience bopping along to the infectious energy.
While it is usually best to avoid role calling in a review, this was hands down an ensemble show; a collective success and a united celebration of quality musical theatre. As it was opening night, at times the cast crept upstage, a common sign of nerves. However, they had no reason to be nervous, they owned the show and as the season progresses this should iron out.
ACPA’s ‘The Wiz’ was a deadly rendition of the cult classic. A bold and skillful ensemble met with brilliantly cast leads, made for a belly full of laughs and a great night’s entertainment. With students, past and present, brought together to do what they do best, it was a strong reflection of the necessity and power of ACPA in Brisbane.
‘The Wiz’ performs until Saturday, 7 December 2019 at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre. For more information visit ACPA’s website.