CROW kids fly audience over the rainbow

Review of 'The Wiz'

“We’re not in Kansas anymore.” We’re not even in Florence. We’re in a musical magic kingdom where wishes come true if you believe in you.

We’re under the spell of the performing arts, tucked beneath the wings of CROW (Children’s Repertory of Oregon Workshops) lifted off our feet, tossed in a tornado and dropped in the Land of Oz.

CROW is presenting “The Wiz” this weekend and next, April 5 to 14, at the Florence Events Center. You’re sure to click your heels and clap your hands as Florence’s favorite feathered friends take you on a delightful journey filled with song and dance, colorful and ingenious sets, extraordinary costumes and makeup, very special effects and exuberant acting.

While you’ll recognize the story, “The Wiz” is not your grandmother’s “Wizard of Oz.” The music has changed. “The Wiz” offers an upbeat, contemporary pop sound that the kids wear well.

You won’t hear “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” but “Soon as I Get Home” and “Believe in Yourself” will steal your heart, especially as sung by Nyah Vollmar as Dorothy and Roxi Clement as the Wiz, respectively. You’ll smile to “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News,” the funky blues anthem of Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, sung by Bailey Overton.

Chances are you’ll leave the theater humming “Ease On Down The Road,” the swinging traveling music of Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman, Lion and the Yellow Brick Road dancers — have road, will travel.

Whatever the music, the story weathers well. It’s a classic, popular for over a century in all kinds of incarnations starting with a children’s book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” published in 1900 by L. Frank Baum. The first musical version was staged on Broadway in 1902. The iconic movie took the big screen in 1939 with Judy Garland and Ray Bolger, sending everyone over the rainbow.

“The Wiz” took Broadway in 1975. In 1978 “The Wiz” became a movie, set in Harlem with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. “Wicked,” featuring the witches, opened on Broadway in 2003 and is still playing.

The story stands the test of time.

All the characters return to “The Wiz” — Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, the Munchkins, the ferocious Kalidahs, a half dozen Crows (the irony is not lost), the teasing Poppies, the Emerald City citizens, Evillene’s slave Winkies, the dazzling Flying Monkeys, Glinda the Good Witch and To-to, an adorable, actual canine played by Kiska, who doesn’t deviate from her scripted entrances and exits.

“The Wiz” is CROW’s eighth mainstage production and perhaps the most polished. The cast includes more than 50 young actors from age 3 to 18, all in proper character, on time and in time, guided by the expertise of director and choreographer Melanie Heard and her production team of wizards.

The companionable quartet that drives the plot is brilliant. In addition to her stunning voice, Vollmar is a perfect Dorothy — innocent, curious and compassionate. Cort Waggoner plays the Scarecrow with such floppy wit you know there’s a first-rate brain in charge. Tinman is covered head to toe in bright shiny silver, like an unrolled sheet of aluminum foil, and Jonathan Olson plays the part with such style, movement, song and charm, he’ll steal your heart. Lion would like to be a “Mean Ol’ Lion,” and William Owens has the theatrical courage to roar with the bluster of a pussy cat who yearns to be Dorothy’s mane man, even though he is tempted by the seductive Poppies.

The Emerald City set is so green you’ll be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day again. Even the tiny Telegrammers that open the show are arrayed in bright, bright green. It’s a green new deal, and that’s what Dorothy and her main men hope for.

Of course their hopes are dashed. Behind the enormous, fabulous face mask, the Wiz is exposed as a fraudulent opportunist with no power to do anything but get out of Dodge. In keeping with the current trend of feminism, The Wiz is female, and Roxi Clement, another superb singer, plays her with such panache you gotta feel sorry for this deceitful fake.

The Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t hide behind anything.

Evillene rides on stage like a queen, and Overton plays her to the hilt, overseeing her slaving Winkies and belting out her bluesy rant. Evil Evillene is washed away, but we hope to see more of Overton.

Now it’s time to click our heels and go home, happy CROW has done it again, but not before sending bushels of fragrant applause to the entire cast and crew for a wizard of a show.

We look forward to next year.