‘The Wiz’ Offers Infectious Music and Feel-Good Family Fun at The Muny

Everyone knows L. Frank Baum’s beloved classic, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” William F. Brown’s dazzling musical adaptation, “The Wiz,” featuring an all-black cast and steeped in sounds of soul and gospel, first debuted on Broadway in 1975, scooping up seven Tony Awards including the coveted Best Musical. The Muny brings this family-friendly show back for its 100th season with a refreshed production that honors the original while making it fit for a “Brand New Day.”

The Muny enlisted witty “Late Night with Seth Meyers” writer Amber Ruffin to help punch up the script for its production with some fresh material and jokes that appeal to modern-day audiences. The result is a delight from start to finish that has something for theatre fans of all generations.

The general plot points stick close to the origin material with cultural twists. It’s no surprise how Dorothy lands in Oz, the friends she meets along the famous yellow brick road, or the challenges they face in trying to get the things they desire most. What keeps The Wiz engaging lies primarily in the stellar performances by its extremely talented cast led by Danyel Fulton, making her Muny debut as Dorothy. Fulton has all of the child-like exuberance required for the role, combined with a powerhouse of a voice that proves itself within the first few notes of “Soon As I Get Home” early in Act One.

Her trio of infamous cohorts proves equally as well cast with Jared Grimes as the delightfully clueless Scarecrow, James T. Lane as the sweet if “heartless” Tinman and Darius de Haas making his Muny debut as the comical cowardly Lion. Each carried their roles and solos with precision, and when the four friends harmonize in the infectious, well known number “Ease on Down the Road,” it’s pure musical magic.

The supporting cast provides some of the most fun moments and comic relief along the way. Standout E. Faye Butler does double-duty as sister witches Addaperle and Evillene (in diva-fabulous costumes by Leon Dobkowski), injecting her numbers with vivaciousness and soul. Nathan Lee Graham, a St. Louis native and graduate of Webster University Conservatory, brings a touch of James Brown style and swagger to title character The Wiz (not to mention a sparkling emerald cape and bell-bottom jumpsuit). His performance is aided by some dazzling pyrotechnics that only an outdoor stage can accommodate.

Even the ensemble shines in flashy dance numbers like “Emerald City House Party,” which feels like a mini-episode of “Soul Train” with each dancer showing their stuff to funk-inspired grooves under the musical direction of Darryl Archibald.

Big kudos go to scenic designer Edward E. Haynes, Jr. and lighting designer Rob Denton for bringing Oz to life with vibrant and ever-changing set pieces framed by the enormous trees behind the Muny stage, awash in the glow of colored lights. This production of “The Wiz” is as much a feast for the eyes as the ears.

Though Act One is lengthier, setting up the story and bringing it to its dramatic apex, Act Two packs the heaviest musical punch with songs and performances that speak most directly to the show’s critical messages including the joy of friendship, looking within yourself to achieve your dreams and the loving embrace of home.

Upbeat and jubilant “Brand New Day” marks the protagonists’ triumph over the wicked Evillene and their hope for the future. Demetria McKinney does a brief but inspiring turn as good witch Glinda belting the beautiful “Believe in Yourself.” Finally, Fulton once again brings star quality to Dorothy for the soaring closer “Home.”

To view this review, please visit KDHX

Reviews are in for Jason Odell Williams’s CHURCH & STATE

“Church & State is the funniest play about a serious issue I have ever seen. The issue is gun violence, specifically mass shootings, and the humor is threaded into the storyline so organically that, far from cheapening the theme, it lends to it a richer, more deeply human heart….Williams doesn’t simply sprinkle some jokes into the early scenes to soften us up before the anvil falls, as so many “heavy” dramas do. Almost to the end, the characters’ wisecracks and idiosyncrasies provide a sparkling current for the quick-flowing action, which includes two switchback surprises, one more credible than the other. The playwright’s hand is so deft and sure that the humor never obscures the topic nor softens the blow.”

 – ValleyAdvocate.com

“A tightly written play with live-wire contemporary relevance… powerful! an earnest and true message about two of our knottiest issues, religion and gun control, delivered – and received – with honesty and openness.”

Times Union

“It is a deadly comedy, or perhaps a hilarious tragedy. At any rate, it is a very human play with very real people….  [the] final speech, accompanied by the tally of a vote in the Chamber, is a riveting five minutes that you will not easily forget.”

The Berkshire Edge 

“Williams’ script is great theatre with well-drawn characters, varying points of view, and humor…a vibrant and timely comedic drama.”

The Westfield News 

“Art, it’s been said, can hold a mirror to life. It also can offer a vision of life — society — as we would like it to be. It is much to playwright Jason Odell Williams’ credit that he manages to do both in his 2016 play, “Church & State.” …[the play] finds life in the intense and richly human dimensions of its characters. The play is as engagingly witty and funny as it is poignant and thoughtful…. a voice of hope at a time when hope is rare, vital and precious.”

Berkshire Eagle 

 

“This show is stunning. The way Williams has constructed it provides the most dramatic tension and such surprises – as many shows as I see, I’m not often surprised, but this one managed to utterly shock me. It’s so timely and so heartbreaking – if you can sit and listen to a description of an elementary school post-shooting and not be moved to tears, I don’t think I want to know you – but it’s also quite funny and human, and whether it will manage to change some minds … well, there’s no telling about that, of course, but kudos to the playwright for using his platform so beautifully to at least try, to bring attention to something so broken in our society…. I want everyone to make seeing this show a priority; it’s not often something this well-written and this timely comes to the stage, let alone the area. This is something everyone needs to experience because it is what we are experiencing, every day, and you owe it to yourself as a member of society to watch, digest and discuss with others. This is theater with purpose, and my gratitude to the company for bringing it to us.”

The Alt

 

Stephen Sachs’s ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE Love Story to Star Married Deaf Actors

An unforgettable love story inspired by one of the most romantic movies of all time. Stephen Sachs directs Deaf actors Deanne Bray (Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, Heroes) and Troy Kotsur (title role in Cyrano at the Fountain, Big River on Broadway) in Sachs’ newest play, inspired by the screenplay for Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter. The world premiere of Arrival & Departure will open on July 14 and continue through September 30 at the Fountain Theatre.

In Sachs’ new spin on the classic 1945 British film, a Deaf man (Kotsur) and a hard-of-hearing woman (Bray), two married strangers, meet accidentally in a New York City subway station. As their casual friendship develops into something deeper, each is forced to confront how their simmering relationship could forever change their lives and the lives of those they love.

“A train station is a place of transition, a place people go when they’re on their way to someplace else,” notes Sachs. “‘Arrival & Departure’ is not only a travel term. It expresses the journey of change that the people in this play are experiencing. What happens when you find your soul mate, but the circumstances of life get in the way?”

Kostsur and Bray are married in real life, and Sachs wrote the play with them in mind.

“This is my valentine to the two of them,” he says.

 

To read the full review, please visit Broadway World: Los Angeles !

In Memoriam: Nick Meglin, 1935-2018

“Truth is, I can’t imagine a world without Nick Meglin. I first met him shortly after I moved to New York in 1976, when I brought my portfolio to MAD. I wasn’t at all ready for the big time yet, but he gave me a lot of encouragement to keep plugging away until I was. For several years after that, I would cross paths with Nick, particularly when he was moderating various MAD panels, and he would always have more words of support and encouragement. This meant a great deal to me, for in those days (and for years to come) Nick Meglin was to a large extent the public face of the MAD staff. He was smooth, charming, glib, funny and always ready with an anecdote. To me, he was MAD. For him to suggest that someday I might be ready to contribute to MAD was akin to Charlie winning the golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory.

That day finally came in 1981, when I got my first assignment for the magazine. Four years later, when Nick and John Ficarra were named co-editors, I became a regular contributor. It was unlike any professional relationship I had in over twenty years of freelancing, mainly because of Nick. He was intensely interested in everything about the people he worked with: ‘What were your parents like?’ ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ ‘Hey, you like opera, too?’ ‘Your jacket’s kind of shopworn — why don’t you trade it for this snazzy corduroy number I just got from John Boni?’ Working with Nick was like a weekly therapy session in a used-clothing emporium.”
National Cartoonist Society

“Nick Meglin was a sharp-witted editor who helped shape the fledging publication once he joined MAD in 1956, the year that Al Feldstein became the magazine’s top editor.

Meglin — who died Saturday of a heart attack at age 82, according to MAD magazine — was for so long the soul of the gifted staff. Bill Gaines, the late founder and publisher of MAD, called Meglin “the heart of the magazine” — a man who was crucial in building and nurturing the magazine’s stable of all-stars.

‘Feldstein was not humorous. He appreciated humor, but he didn’t inspire humor,’ Jaffee tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. ‘Nick inspired humor.’

‘He was a bit zany. . . . He had a great appreciation for the satirical viewpoint — he was gifted with that kind of natural understanding.’

Meglin also helped MAD grow from being ‘a satire of other comic books’ to spoofing politics and pop culture at large. At its circulation peak during President Richard Nixon’s administration, MAD had more than 2 million readers.

‘Nick’s sense of humor was a defining part of MAD magazine,’ says Tom Richmond, a Reuben Award-winning caricature artist at MAD. ‘No other single person had as much to do with creating and perpetuating the MAD ‘voice’ as he did. Both as a humorist and as a person, he was without peer.’

‘Nick was amazing — he was a poet, a good editor, a good writer and artist,’ Aragones says. ‘He could do everything pretty well, and he would crack jokes.’ And what made Meglin especially vital to the magazine, Aragones says, was that the big-hearted editor was ‘a unifier.'”
– As ‘the heart’ of MAD magazine, Nick Meglin influenced much of American comedy, The Washington Post