THIS YELLOW BRICK ROAD IS A VERY COLORFUL
ROAD TRIP TO THE EMERALD CITY
The Yellow Brick Road is open this spring at Sunnyvale Community Players fun production of THE WIZ. Now on stage at the SCP community center stage though May 19th. THE WIZ is a sunny, soul-infused, African-American spin on L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. It is a busy rainbow of color with some classic memorable songs including “Ease On Down The Road.” Directed and Choreographed by local favorite Gary Stanford Jr. He brings a very diverse cast of over 43 to the land of Oz. Stanford says he is excited about this accomplished company; “This production is unique from any other production in the 50 year history of the Sunnyvale Players - this is a full dive into the depth of actor diversity in Sunnyvale theatre”.
This show radiates color, energy and spirit, sailing along when the full company is on stage. But it tends to sag when attempting to advance the familiar narrative of a Kansas girl with bedazzled slippers and her friends on the yellow brick road to Oz. In this case Stanford has company members dress in yellow to show off the busy path to Oz. The highlight of this production is the dazzling colors the craft team has created for this road trip. Jo-Ann Bridsall’s rainbow costumes sizzle and are eye popping candy. Without being too camp, or over the top, the projections and bright costumes are the highlight of this production.
Some of the issues of THE WIZ are William F. Brown’s stage adaptation which shorthands Baum’s tale and clumsily incorporates an urban street feel. Brown’s vision for the show is fuzzy and disjointed. The iconic Dorothy is played by the adequate Smita Patibanda who gets caught up in a twister suggested by a corps of dancers, black-spandex-clad busting on stage as puffs of a hurricane. She lands at the county of Oz with the iconic farmhouse dropping on the wicked witch. The “Tornado” featuring the cast or “Pit Singers” moves well but there’s a disconnect in the cast between singers who can act and actors who can sing. “He’s The Wiz” is a fun number with featured cast and the kid chorus, but it is scattered and it seems that many of the characters are doing their own separate shows.
Patibanda has a sweet, keen voice, shown in her effortlessly commanding interpretations of songs like “Soon As I Get Home” and the finale, “Home.” But when she’s not flexing those keen vocal chords, most of Patibanda’s acting is hit or miss. Dorothy’s road trip begins after a brief visit with Addaperie played by Pasha Stanford a good witch who sings “The Wiz”. Zach Wilson who designed some flawless animated projections that bring the set (basically just props) to life. Wilson created some crows that fly across the back drop as the Scarecrow is wheeled out on his post, played by one of the better featured actors in the company, the terrific Victor Ragsdale. He sings “Born on the Day Before Yesterday” Ragsdale brings a infectious swagger to the boy made of hay and shows off his full throttle voice.
The hit song from the show “Ease On Down The Road” is first performed as the Scarecrow bonds with his new friend and the Yellow brick road comes to life. The Tin Man is next in the story played by Edward Clark in the shining costume designed by Jo Ann Birdsall. Clark sings “Slide Some Oil to Me” as some clever oil cans dance and bring the Tin Guy to life. The big burrly James Creer enters as the Lion, showing off WooWoo Monroe’s stunning wig design that brings the charming cowardly cat to stage. Creer sings “Mean Old Lion” as Stanford creates a “Lion King” carnival of animal dancers to charm Dorothy. The four iconic friends bring a full rousing “Ease On Down” as they get closer to the Emerald City.
The ideal Millan Fan is the City gate keeper and lets the four inside the Emerald world. Both Stanford and projection artist Wilson clearly give this part of the musical a “Wicked” feel. Birdsall’s costumes gleam in glowing green and her over the top design for the Wizard is show stopping. The dazzling Evan-Joelle brings a “Rock Star Prince” feel to the Wiz with his urban cane and swagger. Joelle sings “Meet The Wizard” with the brightly dressed Wizettes and full cast on stage. The crowd favorite tune is “Everybody Rejoice” often referred to as “A Brand New Day” is the one song in the musical written by Luther Vandross.
Kevin Surace’s musical direction works seamlessly with the performers, and his stunning 35 member full orchestra sound fills the Sunnyvale theatre and beyond. R. Dutch Fritz’s scenic design is sparse but his lighting design is bright and full of down stage magic. What makes each scene work are the props by Kevin Stanford with canes, hats, wonderful ruby and silver shoes, wicked witch legs, dancing oil cans, and of course, the Farmhouse that rolls around stage. Stage Managers Marte Abrahamsen and Libby Brill need to wrangle a 43 member cast including a youth ensemble. They made sure the huge production numbers were perfect for the sold out opening night weekend audience.
In the second act Juanita Harris as Eveline the Wicked Witch begins the evil fun with the powerhouse song “Don’t Nobody Bring Me Bad News”. Harris shows off her big voice and the Winkies and Monkeys make their first appearance. Joelle strides onto the stage as the Wiz in the show’s uplifting performance with the hand clapping song “Believe in Yourself.” The Monkeys are fun and sloppy in their number “Funky Monkeys”. THE WIZ is entertaining, energetic and brimming with new talent. It is a great family show that wears its heart on its sleeve and skips along the yellow brick road with a rainbow spring in its step.
The Sunnyvale players end their Golden 50th season with this bright road to Oz. Whether you’re new to the story of THE WIZ or heard it a dozen times you’ll be glad you took this journey again. SCP announced their 51st season that includes URINETOWN and BIG FISH, and opens this fall with JEKYLL & HYDE Sept 14th. But in the meantime join the themes of friendship, and of course “there’s no place like home” and see THE WIZ.
Sunnyvale Community Players Presents
Book by William F Brown
Music by Charlie Smalls
Director & Choreographer:
Music Director: Kevin Surace
Vocal Director: Mary Carroll
Must close May 19th
Sunnyvale Community Center
550 E Remington Dr
Sunnyvale, California 94087
Running time two hours 30 min
THE CAST Smita Patibanda, Chantaine Fauntleroy, Ronnie Grigsby, Josua Lutian, Pasha Stanford, Victor Ragsdale, Edward Clark, James Creer, Evan Dayce, Barbara Reynolds, Valerie Peterson, Clara Jensen Tweney, Sheraj Ragoobeer,James Glass, Audrey Hyde, Preeya Corbin, Millen Fan, Rachel Farhoudi, Will Hester. Aaron Hyde, Eileen Resnick, Katelyn Nightengale, Julianne Shapiro, Milo Sierra, Athena Hart, Ava Ricci, Sofia Larranaga, Gabby Rosenden, Emily Mitchell, Jenafer Jiles Thompson, Angelique Thomas, Trixie Aballa,, Allison Rondez. Nique Eagen, Peter Woolhouse , Tracy Stephens, Letitia Burton, Jay Krishnamurthi, Brenda Jackson, Raina Parks, Juanita Harris.