The Cape Fear Regional Theatre has a long history of producing top-notch shows. That tradition continues unblemished with its latest production, The Wiz. An adaptation of Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, the show first opened at the Majestic Theatre in January 1975. Since then it has been delighting audiences, and the audience at the Sunday matinee at the CFRT was no exception.
Originally produced by Ken Harper, a popular radio personality and producer, the show as groundbreaking in that it was produced with an all black cast. Running for four years during its original run and netted seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, proved the acceptance of an all-black cast by the mainstream on Broadway, laying the framework for future African-America blockbusters like Dream Girls. The popularity of the show has not waned, as shown by the recent televised live performance this year.
Prior to seeing the show, I wondered how the CFRT could pull of such a big production on their stage. It was something I really didn’t need to worry about. The creative staff at the CFRT has always done a great job at maximizing their space, and that was true with this show as well. Through the use of video, simple dual use scenery and the actors, the show allowed us to suspend reality and step into the make believe world of Oz. The cast also used the aisles going through the theatre as part of its acting space, which invited the audience to become a part of the show.
Pre-performance, the CFRT staff was a little nervous about how the show itself would come together because of its intricacy and size. They had nothing to worry about. During the show I attended, there was only one noticeable hiccup, and that was with the microphone of the Wicked Witch Evilene. During her first scene, her initial lyrics could not be heard, but the sound crew quickly corrected the problem, and the audience was soon drawn into her delightfully, wicked home.
The casting of the show was perfection. Many long-time CFRT performers graced the stage, while we were also introduced to new actors — whom I’m sure we will see again. It was not a veritable cast of thousands, but the way actors came and went off the stage, it made you feel like it was an extremely large cast. There were close to 50 performers in the cast, many of whom played dual roles. Huge props go to the dancers/singers who popped in and out of many scenes as different characters. Their talent was amazing and they brought it on the big dance production numbers.
Special props go out to the younger actors, Justice Haygood, Annalise Kelly, Diego Macias and Helen Steffan, who stole the audience from the get go as the Munchkins, and who popped in and out of the show with great style and stage presence. If actors like these are the next generation of CFRT performers, theatre will thrive in Fayetteville for quite some time to come.
Of course, much of the show’s success depended on the performance of Dorothy and her motley band — the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. These four had a great chemistry together and showcased what the CFRT staff does so well — bringing and eclectic group together to make great theatre. TyNia Brandon (Dorothy) is a young North Carolina performer, having earned her bachelor’s of fine arts in musical theater, with a minor in dance, from Catawba College in 2014. Brandon didn’t just grace the stage, she owned it, which is quite a compliment when you consider the talent with which she shared the stage.
Other stand-out performers include Crystal Lynn Bradley, who played the not so magical, but street savvy witch Addaperle, Lormarev Jones playing Evilene and Fayettteville native Gigi Ritchey as Glinda.
The Wiz is a great way for the CFRT to kick off the year, and they did it in such a way that should have you easing on down the road to check it out.