True Colors’ ‘The Wiz’ dazzles with vocals, choreography but lacks message

Credit: Courtesy of Eley Photo

Credit: Courtesy of Eley Photo

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

Atlanta’s True Colors Theatre Company has always been committed to excellence in Black artistry, yet there is something missing from its current production of “The Wiz.”

The individual parts of this production are mostly spectacular, with first-rate vocal performances, sensational choreography and a rich design landscape. In fact, the show succeeds at showing off the talents of the individual artists. Still, it lacks the strong emotional beats needed to connect all of these moments into a satisfying narrative.

The original version of “The Wiz,” a retelling of the 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” hit Broadway in 1974 and later became a movie. The show was conceived as a celebration of Black culture and talent, and True Colors’ production continues that tribute with jaw-dropping vocals and killer choreography.

Dorothy’s journey through Oz hits all of its necessary beats. It certainly helps that Taloria Merricks has chemistry with all of her co-stars. But there isn’t enough of a sustained dramatic throughline for the finale to have its full impact.

To his credit, director Brian Jordan Jr. does a great job hitting the show’s comedic beats. Greg McKinney’s Cowardly Lion manages to pull laughs out of the audience at every turn. Tina Fears is hilarious as both Evelina and Addaperle, albeit bringing very different brands of comedy to the two roles.

Credit: Courtesy of Eley Photo

Credit: Courtesy of Eley Photo

The singing is top-notch, with every vocalist turning out diva moments at some point in the production, but it’s Jordan’s choreography that really runs the show. The dancing alternates between electric hip-hop gyrations and balletic grace, ensuring that the energy never slows.

This verve is further amplified by Andre C. Allen’s vibrant lighting design and Kimberly Binns’ projections, which give the show a remarkable visual quality. The sound engineering by Multiband Studios could use some balancing, though. There are several moments where lines get lost amid the music and sound effects. The Wiz, played by Fenner Eaddy, also has an echoing sound effect for most of his early dialogue that risks becoming a distraction.

Merricks is a strong Dorothy, nailing the character’s fish-out-of-water bewilderment as well as her good-natured kindness. She also leads some of the show’s most powerful songs. George Lovett and Q Parker are similarly excellent as the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, respectively, although the script doesn’t give them quite as much to do as Dorothy or the Lion. They get solo moments, however, and they make meals out of them.

Jarrod Barnes’ costumes are eye-catching. Fears struts in a sleek yellow pantsuit, McKinney’s Lion is decked out in the finest fur. And he dressed Latrice Pace to the nines as the iconic Glinda.

Respect also must be paid to Merlande Petithomme’s wigs. “The Wiz” would not be complete if the divas lacked their hairdos.

The entire look of the show is largely impeccable. Moriah Curley-Clay and Isabel Curley-Clay’s two-level set design is fairly familiar but has a contemporary feel that calls to mind a Billboard music video. That energy is all over the production design, right down to the glow-in-the-dark shades the dancers sport.

Unfortunately, the style and visuals on display end up overshadowing the story. The production moves from one well-made moment to the next without much consideration as to what links those moments into a cohesive narrative. The result is that the pacing drags between musical numbers.

Credit: Courtesy of Eley Photo

Credit: Courtesy of Eley Photo

No sooner is the Wicked Witch of the West introduced than she is unceremoniously defeated, making her presence feel more like an unnecessary interlude than an important part of the plot, despite Fears’ ferocious performance of “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” Many of the small intimate moments between Dorothy and her companions are either glossed over or missed. Despite the dramatic nature of the situation, the stakes never feel particularly high.

Even Dorothy’s final number feels anticlimactic in the absence of any sense of direction. It is telling that during a brief silence between Dorothy’s final number and curtain call, the audience seemed confused as to whether the show had ended.

Don’t misunderstand: This production is entertaining, and the actors are all in top form. But the magic of “The Wiz” is not only in the sparkle and the spectacle — though that is certainly part of it — but in the uplifting message that it carries. This production feels aimless and, as a result, ends up being less than the sum of its parts.


“The Wiz”

Through July 2. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. 11 a.m. June 28-29. $10-$60. Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road SW, South Fulton. 404-532-1901,


Luke Evans is an Atlanta-based writer, critic and dramaturg. He covers theater for ArtsATL and Broadway World Atlanta and has worked with theaters such as the Alliance, Actor’s Express, Out Front Theatre and Woodstock Arts. He’s a graduate of Oglethorpe University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and the University of Houston, where he earned his master’s.

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL


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