54 Sings The Wiz

54 Below
New York, NY
In the burgeoning list of the 54 Sings… series, The Wiz—40 years old!—might just be the most exciting of the bunch with its lineup of sensational singers, great arrangements and an exuberantly demonstrative audience who were on their feet more than their rear ends. Directed by T. Oliver Reid with a topnotch band led by James Sampliner, the songs just flowed, sung by a cast decked out in their Sunday best, turning 54 Below into the Cathedral of The Wiz.

The songs run the genre gamut from lullaby (“That Feeling We Once Had,” in an emotionally rich interpretation by Adriane Lenox) to roof-raising gospel (“Everybody Rejoice,” sung by the talented backup singers).

The cast ranged from the boyish Gregory Haney singing a wide-eyed “I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday,” to the theater veterans Ken Page and Vivian Reed who were greeted as royalty. Page an replacement in the original production) exuded warmth and humor in “(I’m a) Mean Ole Lion,” while Reed gave the youngsters an object lesson in how to inhabit a song with her “Believe in Yourself,” which hypnotized with its eloquence.

Sadly, the cast was too large to mention everyone. Some highlights: N’Kenge was impassioned on “Soon As I Get Home”; Terry Burrell was hilariously game as she doddered through “Emerald City (Green, Red and Gold)” (from the film version); Alton F. White gave the two Tin Man songs warmth; and Kecia Lewis took no prisoners in “No Bad News.”

A great evening all around.

Joel Benjamin
Cabaret Scenes
August 10, 2014