The Wiz review: The cult retelling of The Wizard of Oz is given a perky if diluted update

Matthew Xia’s production is a welcome revival, but one that at times struggles to fill the stage of Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre

Holly Williams
Tuesday 30 November 2021 08:44
<p>Tarik Fimpong (Scarecrow), Cherelle Williams (Dorothy), Jonathan Andre (Lion), Llewellyn Graham (Tinman) in ‘The Wiz' at Hope Mill Theatre</p>

Tarik Fimpong (Scarecrow), Cherelle Williams (Dorothy), Jonathan Andre (Lion), Llewellyn Graham (Tinman) in ‘The Wiz' at Hope Mill Theatre

It’s been a decade since The Wiz, the 1975 cult musical retelling of The Wizard of Oz, was seen on a British stage – and it seems smart programming by Hope Mill to revive it with an entirely black cast, creative and producing team, as a lively Christmas offering.

Matthew Xia’s production bills itself as its own “radical” retelling of The Wiz, promising a contemporary black British update on the African-American original. This also sounds smart – but the interventions are often too small to properly register, at times literally: Kansas becomes the name of Dorothy’s urban tower block, but this concept is only really indicated by the labelling on a tiny paper model of an estate. Footage of Black Lives Matter protests plays before the show starts, then such context vanishes. The (rather cheesy) book doesn’t seem much altered. As an update, it all feels pretty diluted.

More successful is Sean Green’s inventive re-scoring. Don’t worry: there’s no scrimping on the tasty funk and soul grooves of the original – with the musical’s breakout hit number, “Ease on Down the Road”, still a total banger and persistent ear-worm. But Green updates the toe-tapping score, too, deliberately drawing on different genres from across the African diaspora. Some of the most sparkling moments are when the cast floods the stage as emerald green club kids voguing, or dancing in joyful sync to a highlife version of “A Brand New Day”.

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