The Wonderful Wiz

   You may think you know the story of Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, but you have no idea. And you may think you know the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, but you really, really have no idea just what one of Palm Beach County’s top repertoire theaters is capable of. These points become remarkably clear in the Maltz’s newest production The Wiz, on stage through February 1.

Trevor Dion Nicholas, David LaMarr, Destinee Rea and Tyrick Wiltez Jones in The Wiz. Photo by Alicia Donelan

   Adapted from L. Frank Baum’s beloved book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Wiz premiered on Broadway in 1975 and subsequently won the Tony Award for best musical. It was made famous—though some might say infamous—by a 1978 film adaptation starring Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Richard Pryor as the Wiz.

   Under the direction of Producing Artistic Director Andrew Kato, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s spirited production of The Wiz soars to new heights, marking a new echelon of achievement for the organization in terms of performances and, especially, technical production.

    Let’s begin with the performances, which are, on the whole, extraordinary. Destinee Rea stars as Dorothy. A recent graduate of Sam Houston State University’s musical theatre program, Rea balances a range of acting and singing abilities with the innocence needed to successfully portray this effervescently cheerful protagonist. She is surrounded by an outstanding cast of antiheros, including David LaMarr as the Scarecrow, Tyrick Wiltez Jones as the Tinman and Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Lion. All three men excel in bringing their respective characters to life, lending them stellar singing voices, tight dance moves and lovability.

Destinee Rea as Dorothy and Brenda Braxton as Aunt Em in The Wiz. Photo by Jen Vasbinder

   This is a large cast, and the ensemble and gaggle of supporting characters reach the same heights as the top-billed stars. Though only onstage for a few scenes, Zonya Love kills as the Wicked Witch of the West, Eveline. Love manipulates her crew of funky flying monkeys and tormented henchmen with a magniloquence to rival Cruella de Vil and an evil aura reminiscent of Freddy Krueger. Eveline’s far-nicer sister Addaperle, aka the Good Witch of the North, is portrayed by Badia Farha, who imbues the role with the same energetic, likable spirit that permeates the entire production.

Badia Farha as Addaperle and Destinee Rea as Dorothy in The Wiz. Photo by Alicia Donelan

   Beyond this remarkable cast, The Wiz is most notable for the indescribable—though I’ll try—technical elements. Everything from the scenic design to the costumes to the use of projection and lighting manipulation is beyond anything else the Maltz Jupiter Theatre has heretofore achieved.

   Puppetry is employed throughout the production and is an absolute delight, from the first appearance of Oz’s munchkins to the many cameos of the human-controlled crows. It takes two ensemble members to man just one of the munchkin puppets, who are dressed in psychedelic garb and perform Jennifer Werner’s choreography with simultaneous abandon and precision. Speaking of choreography, Werner’s work is notable for both its restraint and its ingenuity. The “Tornado Ballet” is a choreographed chaos that transports Dorothy to the Land of Oz and sets the tone for the nuanced—yet impressive—numbers to follow.

Destinee Rea as Dorothy and David LaMarr as the Scarecrow in The Wiz. Photo by Alicia Donelan

   There are myriad other achievements to note, including the ingenious manipulation of handheld props, the incorporation of flight and the amazing live orchestra, but hundreds more words of copy could not do justice to the visual bacchanalia that is The Wiz. Besides, this production is only on stage through February 1—so click those bedazzled slippers and whisper “There’s no place like the Maltz Jupiter Theatre!”

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