The second go-round for “The Wiz” at the Coterie Theatre isn’t exactly a carbon copy of the production first seen at the young-audiences company in 2011, but it retains all the strengths of this abbreviated version of the 1975 Broadway musical.
The score by Charlie Smalls includes some bona fide hits — none better than “Ease on Down the Road” — as well as a few insufferably bland tunes that may have viewers mentally reviewing their weekend to-do lists. But director Jeff Church and his creative team keep the show moving, ensuring that nobody will be bored for long.
On the plus side, the production features some fine performances from principal actors, all of whom appeared in the 2011 version. And it showcases extraordinary costume designs by Brad Shaw, who also plays the Tinman with style. Emily Shackelford as Dorothy demonstrates a wonderful singing voice, Tosin Morohunfola delivers an exceptional physical performance as the Scarecrow and Christopher Barksdale is hilarious as the Lion.
Damron Russel Armstrong is larger-than-life in a showy performance as the Wiz, and Nedra Dixon, playing multiple roles, threatens to steal the show with her broadly comic turn as the Gatekeeper. Enjoli Gavin registers not one but two amusing performances as witches — the good Addaperle and the malevolent Evilline.
Vanessa Severo’s choreography enlivens the show considerably, and the energetic dance performances use every inch of the Coterie’s cramped performance space. But musically, the show isn’t as exciting as it ought to be. This is largely because of the money-saving decision to have the actors sing over prerecorded backing tracks.
The humor in this piece is potent, and the actors make the most of it. Some of the jokes will sail over the heads of younger viewers, but adults will find some serious laughs. Despite the vivid performances, no single aspect of this production is more creative than Shaw’s costumes. From the Tinman’s metallic outfit to the Scarecrow’s flip-top straw hat to the Lion’s cuddly, stuffed-toy appearance, the clothes are the real show.On stage
“The Wiz” runs through Jan. 5 at the Coterie Theatre at Crown Center. For more information, call816-474-6552 or go to TheCoterie.org.