Review: 'The Wiz' starring Ashanti

Review: 'The Wiz' starring Ashanti

The Wiz is back for the New York City Center’s “Encores!

Published June 17, 2009

thewizcastThe Wiz is back for the New York City Center’s “Encores! Summer Stars” production, which will run until July 5th.

The Wiz is a soul version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The story was popularized in the 1934 film, starring Judy Garland and then there was the 1974 musical simply titled, The Wiz , starring Stephanie Mills . In 1978, The Wiz became a feature film starring Diana Ross and has become a cult classic in the African-American community. This week, the revival of The Wiz opened, starring Tichina Arnold , Dawnn Lewis , Orlando Jones and Grammy winner Ashanti as Dorothy.

Revivals can be risky, especially with a production as flamboyant as The Wiz . But, last night proved the show that changed the face of Broadway and film still has the soul, tenacity and energy to rock any audience, anytime, from any era. Thanks to director Thomas Kail , the production managed to thrill, exhilarate and delightfully stretch the limits of song, dance and vocals. From the opening sequence, the stage glowed with brightness and cheer -- all without being cheesy, which can be very easy for a musical.

The cast was packed with powerhouse talents like LaChanze , who won a Tony for her performance in The Color Purple , playing Aunt Em and Glinda (The Good Witch of the South). In addition, Dawnn Lewis as Addaperle (The Good Witch of the North), whose pipes soared and acting added a saucy flair, cracked the audience up with her comedic timing -- don't forget this is Jaleesa from A Different World . Orlando Jones, who starred alongside Nick Cannon in Drumline , was flawless as the actual Wiz. Also, Tichina Arnold brought down the castle as Evillene -- she was hilarious and jaw-dropping with her relentless voice.

Now for the obvious question -- how was Ashanti? Sure, Ashanti isn't known for Aretha Franklin or Broadway vocals so it was a surprise to many that she would tackle this pop culture character of stage and film. But, I must say, the Long Island native did Dorothy justice. She held her own with film, stage and television legends. She captured the innocence of young Dorothy and gave her the sass when needed. Vocally, it was an Ashanti I have never heard before. Her voice was big, cascading and controlled. In The Wiz , Ashanti has proved the naysayers wrong.

Not enough can be said about Ashanti's co-stars: Christian Dante White (Scarecrow), Joshua Henry (Tinman) and James Monroe Iglehart (Lion). Their acting, dancing and voices were stage gold. One can only hope their careers will explode after the show -- they are true examples of the term "triple threat," which has been cheapened over the years.

That said, the best moment of the night was Iglehart and Ashanti's duet of "Be a Lion." It was Ashanti's strongest vocal moment and a gripping performance from Iglehart that channeled the likes of Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls .

Overall, it was a vibrant, soulful and fun production that managed to stay true to its original roots. The Wiz is worth an "ease on down the road."

New York City Center’s “Encores! Summer Stars” production of The Wiz is on stage until July 5th. Click here to purchase tickets !

Written by Clay Cane

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