Stepping out on a yellow brick road
"What's a Wiz?"
“The Wiz is your most cherished hope, Dorothy; he's your saviour; he's the guy who's going to get you out of here, little, wide-eyed girl. But, (and there's always a but), you'll have to walk the Yellow Brick Road. You'll have to take that first step of faith, not knowing what is waiting for you just beyond the bend, or in the farmer's field or under the dark eaves of the forest. If we have any advice for you, it is this: count your blessings, cut your losses and follow the Yellow Brick Road.
And so she sets out, and we step out with her – walking into a world that you and I have never seen, but that is nevertheless wonderfully familiar. The Yellow Brick Road – curving through fields, past homes, and through forests on its way to the Emerald City – has always been a friendly sort of road. The Scarecrow is a long awaited friend, the Tin Man a dear companion, the Lion unexpectedly lovable… they're all just there, just around the next corner, and it's the beginning of a truly glorious adventure.
The Wendy Whatmore Academy presents the musical The Wiz, an adaptation of Frank L. Baum's childrens' classic, 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.' The Wiz wanders through what is essentially one of the most famous fictional landscapes of all time – Oz it seems, is just one wild tornado ride away. The adaptation has been skilfully done, and while the Broadway hit retains much of the charm and simple wonder of the original, it is also funnier and altogether more enjoyable… and only made more so by an original and buoyant musical score.
Songs such as “I was Born on the Day Before Yesterday” and “Ease on down the Road,” are well worth the listening, combined as they are with spirited dancing and colourful sets. The cast of 60 is strong on enthusiasm, and their energy is simply infectious. Melody Perera who plays Dorothy, in particular, is an accomplished singer and handles both the jaunty numbers as well as the more demanding tunes with equal skill. On songs like “Soon As I Get Home,” and “Be a Lion,” melody is very much in her element.
The Scarecrow, (and I'll confess here that he is my favourite,) is one of the coolest characters in the play – all knock-kneed and lanky, he has some of the production's most amusing lines. Mario Wijayawardhana, handles his role – with all its harmless wisecracks and gawky verve – with ease, frequently inciting undignified snorts of laughter in his audience.
Anush De Costa, as the Tin Man (forgive me, Anush) is the hunk with the heart. He's everybody's hero, and the fact that he can click his heels together dashingly in mid-air only does him credit. The Tin Man, more than any of the others, is a bundle of contrasts. Tough yet tender, he longs to be capable of love. Though Dorothy is the undisputed leader of the merry gang, the Tin Man is the appointed protector of the group.
As the Cowardly Lion, Wasaam Ismail does a great job. Shuddering, shivering, cringing and snivelling, with the occasional roar to provide contrast, Wasaam is something of an overgrown pussycat. Plagued by a multitude of psychological issues, the Cowardly Lion is struggling to live up to the title of 'King of the Jungle.' Keep a ear out for Wasaam's rendition of “I'm a Mean Old Lion,” and for some seriously funny lines.
As The Wiz, Avon Fernando is mostly the little wimpy guy hiding behind a whole load of baloney. Despite this, you can't help liking him. After all, you can appreciate his honesty when he says he wants only the simple things in life – power, prestige and money. Avon has his 15 minutes of fame, which he makes full use of. FYI, you can look forward to a certain, almost impromptu, most un-wiz, like break-dance session.
The Witches – now these women kick some booty (except, of course, the dead one under Dorothy's house). The Good Witch of the North, played by Carlene de Fry, gets the play’s first real laughs. Quirky and almost deliriously ebullient, teetering on a pair of high heels, Carlene is all over the stage, very obviously having the time of her life. In particular, she turns in a confident and creditable performance of ‘He's the Wizard.’ Tehani Welgama is her on-stage sister, and makes her presence felt as the powerful and benevolent Good Witch of the South.
Ramla Waha, is delightfully, loudly, unashamedly evil as the Wicked Witch of the West. With a cackle that would raise the dead, and a whole string of nasal curses, she is the Witch you've been waiting for. This is very obviously another performer who is simply wallowing in her role.
When Dorothy and the others are pitted against Ramla, you can't help but feel sorry for them. She's a worthy foe – utterly wicked and immoral, you just can't wait to watch her get her just deserts.
The Wiz is one of the rare breed of musicals whose subject matter is at once uncomplicated, thoroughly familiar and yet endlessly enjoyable. It's a celebration of the things you believed in when you were a kid – things you believe in even now, secretly, somewhere inside. That love, faith and courage may be all you need to change the world.
Scarecrow: "Fame, fortune, all are illusions. The only real thing is friendship."
Dorothy: "That's lovely. Who said that?"
Scarecrow: "I did."
The Wiz is directed by Tracy Holsinger and will be on at the Lionel Wendt from March 23-25 from 7 pm onwards. Tickets are currently available at the Wendt. Sponsors for the event are ETV, TNL, Lite 89.2 and The Sunday Times