By Annie Parnell of George Mason High School
Follow the yellow brick road to the shining lights of Emerald City accompanied by the beat of hip-shaking R&B tracks, and you’ll find yourself in The Wiz, performed with aplomb this weekend by Tuscarora High School.
A daunting, unusual choice for a high school cast, this urban revamping of the children’s classic The Wizard of Oz opened on Broadway in 1975, going on to win seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The show opens on Dorothy, a young woman out of place and longing for a new life away from her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s Kansas farmhouse. However, Dorothy soon learns to be careful what she wishes for, finding herself lost in the magical world of Oz after a harrowing tornado. Informed of the miraculous powers of a mysterious man called the Wiz, Dorothy embarks on a journey to see if he can return her home, making friends along the way with a scarecrow in search of a brain, a tin man looking for a heart, and a cowardly lion yearning for courage, each seeking the Wiz themselves.
The show’s four main characters–Dorothy (Kendall Guntner), The Scarecrow (Brandon Ballard), The Tin Man (Freddy Sane-aka), and The Lion (Kyle Ebbets)–presented the audience with an endearing ragtag group of friends. Their group chemistry and undeniable charisma drove the show forward, investing audiences not only in the story of Dorothy’s quest, but of the group’s developing dynamic as a whole.
Guntner’s vocals were strong throughout her performance as Dorothy, showcased especially in her finale performance of “Home.” Ballard and Sane-aka impressed with artful physical characterization of their roles, respectively employing wobbly and stiff movements to emphasize their being made of straw and tin. As The Lion, Ebbets brought a comedically endearing character to the show, adding zest through snappy comebacks and one-liners.
Natalie Ah Nee wowed audiences as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West and Dorothy’s rival. James Smith shone in his role as the titular Wiz, displaying excellent stage presence and range in emotion and character in numbers such as “Y’all Got It.” The show’s varied ensembles, ranging from personified poppies to green-clad citizens of the Emerald City, showed enthusiasm and spirit throughout the production.
The set’s industrial-punk inspiration was innovative and clear, combining with other elements to form a cohesive stage picture. Though faced with intermittent audio issues, both cast and crew continued with skill and grace under pressure. Impressive costumes, largely student-made, emphasized the show’s fantasy backbone and seventies-style roots, bringing to life the dazzling world of Oz. The choice to employ a disco ball for “Home” dazzled, illuminating with just the right touch for the closing number of the show.
Combining soulful belting with an imaginative romp through a fantasy world, Tuscarora High School’s performance of The Wiz was an impressive take on a cult classic, easing audiences down a fantastical road of magic and excitement.