By: Skyler Stanford
After months of receiving criticism and support from students and family at Saratoga Springs High School, The Wiz had it’s final performance on Saturday, March 18, 2017. Seeing that the complaints of its offensiveness have dissipated, it is likely that the skepticism for the musical was based solely on the issue of race. What many didn’t realize prior to seeing the musical is that there are not many differences in the plot and characters between The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz.
Most criticism arose from the fact that The Wiz was written for an all African American cast. However, Saratoga Springs High School is made up of predominantly white students. Therefore, many believed the play would be a display of cultural appropriation. Perhaps the director, Bob Berenis, had this racial disparity in mind when he decided to cut certain segments from the musical, segments that included subtle symbolism of the racial climate at the time. For example, in the original production and the later, modified movie production Dorothy was unable to catch a taxis to go to Oz which represents the fact that at that time it was nearly impossible for African Americans to catch taxis due to understated segregation in the North. These changes were said to be made to decrease the likelihood of offense, but they also decrease the amount of props and allow more time for certain scenes. Despite the negative responses, the show went on and was met with relatively similar annual attendance and sponsorship by local businesses.
The musical began with an impressive overture by an orchestra comprised of some of the best musicians at the high school. However, the highlight of the entire night was, by far, the twister scene where Dorothy travels from Kansas to Munchkin land. In this scene there was intense music, strobe lights, and a well choreographed dance routine where the dancers wore black costumes with strips of fabric sewn freely along the sides giving the appeal of constant movement. Leigh Berenis’s choreography was very well executed and utilized the talented dancers who participated in the musical. Two stand out performers were Emily Dougherty and Jackson Cassady who, as dance captains, graced the stage in almost every choreographed number. “It was just so much fun to dance with everybody and feel like a giant family up on the stage!” said Dougherty.
There was an abundance of solos, which took a lot of attention away from the plot. Amira Elsawi, a former student at Saratoga High School said, “It was a little confusing, I didn’t understand what was going on a lot of the time.” Almost every main character had two solos and there was only one ensemble song, which may have distracted viewers from Dorothy and her journey.
In past performances, the singing abilities of the cast members and the soundtrack have been aligned perfectly but the students appeared to struggle with some of the more difficult numbers.Not being trained in the genres of R&B and Soul, the musical score hindered the vocal abilities of the cast. The director, Bob Berenis, and music director, Casey Gray, did make the decision to include songs from the movie production of The Wiz, which brought more pop music into the solos.
Overall, The Wiz was executed with full effort and enthusiasm from the cast and crew. Most audience members had only positive things to say. “I really enjoyed the unique music and the overall experience all four times I saw it,” said Danny Irizarry. If you missed the high school’s performance of The Wiz, recordings and other media will be available soon.
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For Pictures of The Wiz go to Barb Tyler’s Website here