"There are many overtones of "The Wiz" mixed into the Theatre Project Company's production of "The Wizard of Oz," but the blend works, thanks to solid direction and a glorious performance by Darryl Maximilian Robinson. The result is a charming, warm, highly entertaining evening of the L. Frank Baum classic..the evening belongs to Robinson, whose Cowardly Lion steals the show so slickly that he might be considered a threat to Brink's, Wells Fargo and Mercantile Trust." -- Joe Pollack, A Happy Evening In Oz For Kids Of All Ages, The St. Louis Post-Dispach, Tuesday December 4, 1984.
"...Darryl Maximilian Robinson as "The Wiz," stands tallest in sheer stage presence." -- Dale Sandusky, The Tribune of New Albany, Ind., Friday February 17, 1989.
During The 1980s, Darryl Maximilian Robinson Had The Great Joy of Going 'Over The Rainbow' as The Cowardly Lion In A Traditional Stage Musical Version of The Wizard of Oz And He Mastered How to 'Ease On Down The Road' in the title role in The WizEdit
During the late 70s, and throughout the 80s, there were many successful and well-received productions of the Tony Award-winning best musical The Wiz staged around the United States in regional theatres and on tours. One revival of The Wiz that is of interest was one staged in the winter of 1989 with a multicultural cast by director / producer Bekki Jo Schneider at The Derby Dinner Playhouse of Clarksville, Indiana just outside of Louisville, Kentucky. Schneider's cast included Shirese Hursey as Dorothy, K. Bartholomew Ray as The Scarecrow, Stanley White as The Tin Man, Mark Lawrence as The Cowardly Lion, and 1981 Fort Wayne News-Sentinel Reviewer's Recognition Outstanding Thespian of the Season Award Winner and future 1997 Chicago Joseph Jefferson Citation Outstanding Actor Award Winner Darryl Maximilian Robinson as The Wiz. The 1989 Derby Dinner Playhouse revival of The Wiz was performed in-the-round and featured choreography by Barbara Cullen-Bauer. Considered a break-through Broadway show for African-American performers of musical theatre, alongside Purlie and Raisin, Charlie Smalls' and William F. Brown's The Wiz continues to serve as a wonderful, creative example of black artistic history in the U.S.
During the fall of 1984, after a successful encore season of professional summer stock roles with The Enchanted Hills Playhouse of Syracuse, Indiana, Darryl Maximilian Robinson was playing such parts as Emperor Kublai Khan of China in The Wonderful World of Marco Polo, the black Revolutionary War hero Prince Whipple in Give Me Liberty! and preparing to appear as A Featured Performer in an adaptation of Thomas Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales all while on the 1984-85 MUNY / Student Theatre Project Company Tour out of St. Louis. While dilligently working under this contract, Darryl Maximilian Robinson earned critical praise as The Cowardly Lion in The Theatre Project Company of St. Louis 1984 traditional stage musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz well-directed by Deborah Lynn Wickes at The New City School of The Central West End.
A Happy Evening In Oz For Kids Of All AgesEdit
Theater By Joe Pollack
Of the Post-Dispatch Staff
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
December 4, 1984
There are many overtones of "The Wiz" mixed into the Theatre Project Company's production of "The Wizard of Oz," but the blend works, thanks to solid direction and a glorious performance by Darryl Maximilian Robinson. The result is a charming, warm, highly entertaining evening of the L. Frank Baum classic.
One overtone I didn't like was a change in the climactic scene. Balloons may be fun, but I missed Dorothy clicking her heels together and saying "I want to go home." Even with that change, however, I found the musical most rewarding it's nice to attend one and leave humming its tunes. The show, aimed at families for the pre-holiday period, had its formal opening last Saturday, and will continue this week at the New City School, with curtain at 10 a.m. today through Thursday and again on Saturday, at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and at 8 on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
The cast is liberally laced with children, with two separate sets of supporting casts and dancers. All were bright and properly cute at the performance I saw. Michelle Burdette-Elmore provided some simple choreography and Stuart Elmore, the musical director, brought out proper clarity and diction in the chorus work. Debra Lynne Wicks directed, showing obvious patience and skill with the youngsters and a nice touch with the adults, too. The evening is well-paced and stylish, and works effectively in its limited space.
But the evening belongs to Robinson, whose Cowardly Lion steals the show so slickly that he might be considered a threat to Brink's, Wells Fargo and Mercantile Trust. At times, he reminded me of Bert Lahr. who was the original; at others, he brought memories of Ken Page, the St. Louisan who was the Lion for a time on Broadway in "The Wiz" and who later was Old Deuteronomy in "Cats."
Robinson is not only larger than life, he's even larger than a cartoon, mugging and clowning in a red-and-gold costume that seemed much like an oversized pom-pon. His work with a scarf was most skillful, and when he pitched over in a faint at one point, the fall was a classic.
Mark Fredo was a highly satisfactory Tinman, in a costume that used so many muffin pans there may not be any left for St. Louis bakers, who now will undoubtedly be forced to free all their blueberries. He handled the difficulties of the costume with real style, and while his aura belied the fact that he lacks a heart, his work was warm and charming.Michael Lubeck's Scarecrow was extremely bright in his early scenes, but he soon faded into the background behind his two companions.
Rita Sand is a charming Dorothy, and she deserves plaudits for coping with a not-too-cooperative Toto in the opening scene. Trying to sing "Over the Rainbow" while calming a squirming dog, feeding him and having him lick your face is not an easy thing to do. But she persevered, and went on to offer a solid performance.
Burdette-Elmore and Lisa Raziq brought nice touches of humor to the roles of the good and evil witches, respectively. William Charles Burch made an excellent Wizard. Frank Bradley's set, John Gutoskey's costumes and K. Dale White's lighting all work effectively. This musical evening in Oz should be enjoyable for children of all ages.
The Wiz Edit
By JOHN PILLOW
The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky
February 18, 1989
The familiar characters are all there in Derby Dinner Playhouse's production of the Tony-winning musical "The Wiz," just as endearing as ever. But this all-black version of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" could have used a little less laugh and a little more of the magic that has made the story timeless.
Producer / director Bekki Jo Schneider has adroitly mixed the dance, music and costuming to fit the limitations of Derby Dinner's small stage. Schneider, now in her fifth year with Derby Dinner, has plenty of experience in directing for a small venue. But it is a difficult task that should not be taken lightly, especially in a musical that transports a girl from a Kansas farm to the Emerald City and back.
The "wind" that whisks Dorothy away (Toto didn't make this trip) is created by four dancers swirling banners. The Munchkins wear hoop skirts that hide them as they sit on chairs with wheels. The Yellow Brick Road Is created by dancers wearing golden costumes. Choreographer Barbara Cullen-Bauer, who also must make do with less, showed great ingenuity.
Shirese Hursey is a charming and convincing Dorothy. It is also no easy task to re-create a role that has been Indelibly stamped by Judy Garland's performance in the 1939 film and by Stephanie Mills' in the Broadway version of "The Wiz." Hursey, more than any other cast member, succeeds in casting away the inevitable comparisons.
K. Bartholomew Ray is a likable and funny Scarecrow. Schneider does a good job in giving him a loose rein with the comedy.
Stanley White as the Tin Man is also an accomplished comedic actor, and his rendition of "To Be Able to Feel" is one of the production's most memorable numbers. Mark Lawrence as the Cowardly Lion and Darryl Maximilian Robinson as the bombastic Wizard of Oz also do yeoman service.
This production has some strange additions. The lion is arrested in a poppy field by two toe-walking mice wearing sport coats and calling themselves "Miami Mice." The dialogue seemed mostly to serve as a transition from one song or laugh to another. The gags at times obscured the real power of the tale. The audience sees Dorothy and the others grow up by discovering their inner selves, but the changes that shape their enlightenment and make it a believable transformation are missing.
Also missing, except until the end, is the camaraderie that bound the lovable cast of castoffs to each other and us to them. Nevertheless, Derby Dinner's production of "The Wiz" is entertaining if not enchanting. It runs through March 19.