Near West Theatre – Community Theatre

Thru 2/19

It all started in 1974.  “The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical “Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” This is not the version of Oz that you have come to know on television. This version is a dazzling urban musical, which mobilizes a mixture of rock, gospel and soul to set audiences on a heartfelt journey of finding truth. All the while, infusing their insides with powerful life affirming messages. Providing the music is Charlie Smalls, and contributors Timothy Graphenreed, Harold Wheeler, George Faison, and the soulful Luther Vandross. Lyrics by Smalls, Vandross, and Zachary Walzer. Book by William F. Brown, based on the Novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

What is significant about the 1975 Broadway production, is that it was an early example of Broadway’s mainstream acceptance of works with an all-black cast. Taking a mainstream story, and turning it upside down with dynamic soul/funk infusion, and showing the essence of black influence. At Near West Theatre. Kelcie Nicole Dugger once again takes the reigns as Director of the youth production, this time for The Wiz. That’s right. The cast includes 40 plus young performers from the ages of 9 to 15. The result is amazing to watch these cast members take on the material and music, and approach and celebrate it with tremendous zeal.

Near West Theatre has a tradition of mixing up their ensembles. A portion of the cast are actors that might never have been on stage before. Another cast section will have some, or occasional stage experience. The round out the cast with members that are more versed in the craft, and can offer role models for the others to emulate. It is truly a fascinating synergistic formula to watch come to fruition on stage. The combined energy from the different stage experiences ,come together to literally explode on stage. And from personal experience, the parents and family members are just as excited. The first weekend of The Wiz was completely SOLD OUT!

Overall, this is a lively production that showcases some amazing voices, and some wonderful characterizations. Dugger has done her best to bring out the best in everyone, especially those with less experience. However, this is just like Planet Fitness – “Judgement Free Zone.”©

Dorothy, the iconic role, is the heart and center of this tale. Newcomer Zeakia Jordan has a voice that is beautiful, raw, and emotionally powerful. When she takes on the classic “Home”, if your spiritual core is awakened then you must belong on The Walking Dead. For someone who does not have a lot of experience, taking on this role, and handling this music, which is not easy by any means, Jordan crushes it. What is so wonderful about this is experiencing the potential this young lady has to offer. Her star will only grow brighter as she gains experience as an actor, and her voice will continue to lift her up to the heavens.

Zoe Douglas, as Aunt Em, and then Glinda, the good witch, provides a textured and vocally powerful performance. Her characterizations are strong, and when she begins to sing, her versatile range and nuanced vocals are an incredible treat to the ears. Her voice has a deep richness which  delightfully infiltrates and colors everything she sings. It is like a layered onion at Outback, in which each part just gets better and better. When she turns on the power button, her voice is transcendent.

As the Tinman, Felix Albino turns in an excellent performance. Her characterizations are completely on point, fun, and expressive. Simply, a joy to watch. But vocally, his vocal displays were a treasure chest of yasssssssss. Slide Some Oil to Me can be an interpreted nightmare if not performed well, and Albino turns it into a fierce fun treat. Slighty hampered with choreographed pots and pans, which he and his cohorts handle well, but he strongly delivers. It is the performance of the song What Would I Do If I Could Feel. where Albino presents a performance that could live on any stage in Cleveland. The richness, texture, and emotional commitment to the song is brilliant. All of this coming from a 14 year old, who sings as if he has lived 100 years. Just beautiful.

Kayla Slater brings her sassy sultry self to the role of Addaperle, and proceeds to gloriously chew the scenery for everyone to enjoy. She brings lots of funk and soul to “He’s the Wiz”. Her character is a blast to watch, and this young lady strides across the stage with fierce confidence. She must be the love child of Patty Lupone and Luther Vandross. Just a joy! The Wiz, brought to life by Cole Tarantowski, was a blast to watch. Due to some incredible projection and lighting work, Tarantowski made the most of his face as he loomed over the redemption team to react to their wishes. Nice work as the projection shifts around and he still has fun barking at Dorothy and her crew. His rendition of If You Believe was heartfelt.

The fly team to Dorothy is a character bonanza. Connor Fields as the Scarecrow, does a terrific job finding all the qualities that made him a crowd favorite. He is moving and jiving in all the right ways, and creates a great playful presence on stage. Nate Jorgensen as the Lion, is a hoot. His lion is an entertainingly stressed lion with a thin shell. His roars hide a sweetness and kindness, that is projected with a beautiful balance. Calista Zajac is literally a theatrical cannon ball shot out on to the stage. Her Evillene is a manic fireball of fury and talent that has enough energy and stage presence to keep the Citadel in order.

Props out to the Hilarious Gatekeepers CJ Jorgensen and Connor Marrott. And a special shout out to Shadarria Robinson who helped launch Brand New Day with a severe case of fabulous vocals and dynamic stage presence. Jackson Marshall as Uncle Henry, Josh Davis as Lord High Underling, and Tyler Thompson as the Winged Monkey all make  significant contributions to this party. The Yellow Brick Road Dancers do a great job bringing road crews to life. The rest of the company is dedicated, strong, and fearless as they help bring this story to life and entertain the audience.

Kelcie Nicole Dugger does a great job handling the enormous cast, and harnessing the best out of every one of them. Musical Director John Krol is a welcome addition to the musical family as he conducts a fierce band that kicks some serious Ozness. Choreographer Josh Landis gives the piece just enough movement to highlight the company, instead of focusing on featured players, which is a refreshing change for a large cast. Stage Manager Kate Atherton called a great show. Tech Director and Asst Tech Director, Josh Padgett and Perren Hedderson, bringing the technical elements together well, especially the projections.Cameron Michalak delivers a sliding and interesting set. Adam Ditzel brings some fabulous and interesting lighting choices. April Rock does a wonderful job costuming this theatrical hoard.

Bravo to Near West Theatre for once again providing inclusion from all walks of life, from all colors of the rainbow. and from every social arena that exists.

Kevin Kelly

7:30pm Fridays
7:30pm Saturdays
3pm Sundays

$8 Kids, $10 Adults -$25 Reserved Seating/General Admission

(216) 961-6391
Order Tickets Online

Near West Theatre
6702 Detroit Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44102