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'Wiz' Eases on Down the Road, but Pace Should Be Brisk

February 02, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BUENA PARK — There's one thing to be said about William F. Brown's bouncy adaptation of L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz": Brown's book for the musical "The Wiz" is much closer to the original than is the classic MGM film.

"The Wiz"--at the Buena Park Civic Theatre through Feb. 17--also is tuneful and refreshing, and even some anachronistic dialogue seems to fit in with its overall spirit. If none of Charlie Smalls' score is as memorable as the original film's, that's OK; the lyrics are pretty clever, and the pop-oriented music works well.

Tim Nelson directed this staging, also handling the musical direction and the conducting. His musical tempos are sparkling and bright (with the exception of "Ease on Down the Road," this version's take on "Follow the Yellow Brick Road"; the song's buoyant excitement is all but lost in Nelson's tepid treatment).

His tempos in the book sections of the show are a different matter, though: much too leisurely, with gaps in momentum big enough to drive a truck through.

Nelson doesn't always keep his actors as crisp as his musicians. In those moments when the actors are up to speed, things are fine. But too often it looks as though they're waiting for laughs when there are none. Jennifer Simpson's choreography is equally out of balance--wonderful when she and her dancers get hip, but dull when they are lyrical.

Many of the actors do make a strong impression, which could only be helped by tightening the dialogue. Jennifer Shelton's Dorothy is a delight, and she shines vocally, especially during "Soon as I Get Home." There is a naivete in her characterization that couldn't be more right.

Rovin Dickinson is good as the Lion in spite of his low-key approach, and Jerry Howard often is very funny as the Scarecrow, although sometimes his diction obscures his lyrics and funniest lines. Val Aniceto's Tinman has a high key vibrancy that stands out, and his strong, crystal clear voice makes an occasion of his stylish "Slide Some Oil to Me." Sylvia Nelson is impressive as Aunt Em singing "The Feeling We Once Had."


Rudy Martinez is notable as the Wiz, even if his humbug is more an auto salesman's than a carnival fake's. In his big number, "Believe in Yourself," his strong baritone is on the nose.

The three witches--Saidell Preston as the effervescent Addaperle, the Good Witch of the South; Shaun Wilkins as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North; and Lledias Llibwen as the horrendous Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West--couldn't be better, approaching their songs with all the high camp required.

In the supporting cast, Tom Rupcic is funny as the bumbling Gatekeeper to the Emerald City, and Vincent Ortega is even funnier as the rubber-boned Soldier Messenger who delivers bad news to Evillene. They both very much in tune with the production's urban, street-looking crows and Glinda's entourage of marginally daring Chippendale types.

* "The Wiz," The Buena Park Civic Theatre in the Buena Park High School Performing Arts Complex, Magnolia Avenue at Academy Way. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Matinees Sunday and Feb. 11 at 2:30 p.m. Ends Feb. 17. $6-$12. (714) 562-3844. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Jennifer Shelton: Dorothy

Jerry Howard: Scarecrow

Rovin Dickinson: Lion

Val Aniceto: Tinman

Rudy Martinez: The Wiz

Lledias Llibwen: Evillene

Saidell Preston: Addaperle

Shaun Wilkins: Glinda

Sylvia Nelson: Aunt Em

Tom Rupcic: Gatekeeper

Vincent Ortega: Soldier Messenger

A Buena Park Civic Theatre production of the William F. Brown-Charlie Smalls adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novel. Produced by Joane Evans. Directed by Tim Nelson. Associate producer: Geoffrey Gread. Musical direction by Tim Nelson. Choreography: Jennifer Simpson. Scenic design: Karen Steward. Costume design: Carol Young. Lighting design: Jim Book. Sound design: Dave Edwards. Stage manager: Terry Russell.

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