Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Wiz
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's recent review of Ringling International Arts Festival

Leon S. Pitts, II, Khadijah Rolle, E. Mani Cadet,
and Joey James

Photo by Don Daly
The Westcoast Black theatre Troupe opens its 2016-2017 with a smashing production of William F. Brown (book) and Charlie Smalls' (music and lyrics) The Wiz. This show is a perfect fit for this company, requiring a fabulous cast and Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe's talent pool always seems unending. When Artistic Director Nate Jacobs won the Larry Leon Hamlin Producer Award at the 2015 National Black Theatre Festival, he gained a great deal of cache and he has used that to bring finer artists to Sarasota to work with his regulars. For this production Mr. Jacobs reached out to director Kenney M. Green who brings a new level of pizazz to the company.

Khadijah Rolle, previously seen in The Color Purple with this company, makes a fine Dorothy, and her "Home" is meltingly lovely. Joey James, seen on other stages around town and part of the Jazzlinks educational touring show, is the Scarecrow. He sings and dances well, but his is the least interesting role among Dorothy's friends. Leon S. Pitts, II pretty much wipes the stage clear of any competition he might have otherwise had when he lets loose with a tap solo during "Slide Some Oil to Me." E. Mani Cadet as the Lion is excellent. Interestingly, his opera work is as a tenor while this role has usually been played by a bass. Ken Paige, famously in the original cast of Ain't Misbehaving as the Fats Waller character, was a replacement Lion on Broadway. Having been part of this company often, there is built in chemistry with Mr. Pitts. Michael Mendez continues his assent toward real stardom as Uncle Henry and The Wiz. His acting continues to get stronger and stronger and he delivers "Believe in Yourself" strongly. Tarra Conner jones plays Auntie Em and delivers all the love in "The Feeling We Once Had," but when she becomes Evillene in act two ("She puts the E in Evil") she really goes to town with "No Bad News."

Ariel Blue is utterly befuddled as Addaperle. I've never seen her quite this funny; her talent just keeps growing. Neyce Pierre takes on the mostly thankless role of Glinda, although she does get one of the songs added for the NBC live version from November 2015, "A Rested Body." All of the principals give lively energetic performances but so much of the sizzle comes from Chaz Coffin, Jeffery Cason, Jr., Marcus Davis, and Donald Frison as The Yellow Brick Road and other characters; and Ashley Brooks, Travis Ray, Chakara Rosa and Khadija Sallet who play all manner of ensemble roles, Munchkins (who very nearly steal the opening scene in Oz), Poppies, Citizens of Oz. Because of all these people, "Y'all Got It" really soars all over the theater.

Kenney M. Green's direction of the show seems excellent, as he gets strong acting performances out of his entire cast and also realizes the emotional substance underneath the sassy humor. He really understands what drives this musical. Still The Wiz is primarily a singing and dancing show. The choreography, also credited to Mr. Green, is excellent, but I also notice the stylistic elements of Donald Frison's choreography from past productions. Perhaps he lent a helping hand. Either way the dancing is energetic and focused. The yellow brick road moves with a sinewy style perfect for this R&B score. Music direction from the piano by John Bronston keeps the score lively. Scenic design by Donna Buckalter is minimal, perfect for leaving the stage open for singing and dancing. Costume design by Cristy Owen rises to new heights. The fluorescent yellows and greens (and pinks) are dazzlingly everywhere. Lighting design by the always wonderful Michael Pasquini keeps things mostly bright, with some dark effects around Evillene and her dominion. The company faithful, property master Annette Breazeale, production manager James E. Dodge, II, production stage manager Juanita Munford and wig designer Mydra McKinnon do their always solidly professional work.

It seems I always have the same positive things to say about every Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe show. That is because this company has a strong sense of community and thus a sense of style that travels from production to production. Everyone connected to this company is vested in this vision. But the company is far from stagnant—each year the overall level of quality just seems to go up and up and up. Theirs are always some of the hottest tickets in town, once season is fully upon us. Theater lovers would be foolish to miss this glorious, joyful production of The Wiz.

The Wiz, presented by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe through November 20, 2016, at 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. For more information, visit

Cast (in order of appearance):
Aunt Em/Evillene: Tarra Conner jones*
Dorothy: Khadijah Rolle*
Uncle Henry/The Wiz: Michael Mendez*
Tornado: Chakara Rosa
Addaperle: Ariel Blue
Munchkins: Ashley Brooks, Chaz Coffin, Travis Ray, Khadija Sallet
Yellow Brick Road: Chaz Coffin, Jeffery Cason, Jr., Marcus Davis Donald Frison
Scarecrow: Joey James
Crows: Ashley Brooks, Chakara Rosa, Khadija Sallet
Tin Man: Leon S. Pitts, II,
Lion: E. Mani Cadet*
Kalidahs: Chaz Coffin, Neyce Pierre, Chakara rosa
Gatekeeper: Marcus Davis
Field Mice: Chaz Coffin, Travis Ray
Poppies: Ashley Brooks, Chakara Rosa, Khadija Sallet
Lord High Underling: Chaz Coffin
Winged Monkey: Donald Frison
Citizens of Oz: Male and Female Ensemble, Neyce Pierre, Tarra Connor jones
Soldier Messenger: Jeffery Cason, Jr.
Glinda: Neyce Pierre
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association

Piano: John Bronston
Trumpet: Lenny Balistreri
Reeds: Tony Benade
Bass Guitar: Joe Bruno
Substitute Bass Guitar: Don Dean
Drums: Donald "Snoopy" Watts

Directed/Choreographed by Kenney M. Green*
Music Directed/Arranged by John Bronston
Scenic Design: Donna and Mark Buckalter
Costume Design: Cristy Owen
Lighting Design: Michael Pasquini
Property Master: Annette Breazeale
Production Manager: James E. Dodge, II
Production Stage Manager: Juanita Munford*
Wig Design: Mydra McKinnon

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