"The Wiz" launches Greasepaint season

I did things a bit differently this weekend — I went to see shows I’ve never been terribly fond of. “The Wiz” (being performed by Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale) and another I’ll reveal in a later post.

I had to do it. I’d never seen either show before — but was convinced that I hated them. It’s a lousy approach to take, whether you’re dealing with unfamiliar people or unfamiliar art.

Greasepaint Youtheatre’s opening night of “The Wiz” was a classy affair –complete with a small, elegant silent auction and fancy finger food from candy corn cookies to chocolate-dipped strawberries.

It’s hard to sit on your hands during “The Wiz.” Once the synthesizer hits a steady beat, patrons start clapping and tapping away. But I poised my pen and prepared for the worst.

I was disappointed. My “shows I love to hate” list just got shorter, and I have the cast, crew and creative team of Greasepaint Youtheatre’s “The Wiz” to blame.

I still can’t get those “Ease on down the road” lyrics out of my head — but now they are blissfully accompanied by images of whimsical sets, creative costumes and vibrant vocals.

A few of the hightlights: Any time Asijah Adolph (Dorothy) opened her mouth to sing (she’s a triple threat and she’ll sing to packed arenas one day). Katie Cook’s (Glinda) singing and genuine sparkle (you also can see her in Mesa High School’s “Joseph”). And several spectacular dance numbers choreographed by Laurie Trygg– featuring everything from soft shoe to tumbling.

In the serious acting chops category, Orly Schlesinger (Evillene) was the stand out. Bransen Gates (Tin Man) and Rhetta Mykeal (Addaperle) also delivered especially strong performances. I’ll have to give Paul Thompson (The Wiz) higher marks for his monologue work than his musical stylings, due in part to a persnickety mic.

“The Wiz” — as performed by Greasepaint Youtheatre with direction by D. Scott Withers — seems a perfect blend of Cookie Company and Childsplay. I trust all three will consider this high praise.

Most of the audience members were between early elementary school and “it’s none of your bleeping business” age — and all laughed heartily throughout. Don’t go if your little darlings can’t handle a mild swear word every now and then (which means, of course, that you will also need to burn your many remote controls).

Those who know me well won’t be at all surprised with my disgust for words like “schizophrenaphobia” — used in this show to disparage one of the characters in a manner that no advocate for those with cancer or autism would (or should) ever tolerate. It does garner laughs, as does the show’s one “fat” joke.

So does the bit of Lady Gaga banter used to summon the flying monkeys. And Scarecrow’s sloppy stabs at standing.  And Lion’s passion for those peculiar poppies.

Greasepaint Youtheatre’s “The Wiz” is a playful show that resonates with a powerful message. Ease on down the road. Believe in yourself. Embrace even your hang-ups. But never let go of your sparkly shoes.

— Lynn 

What color were Dorothy's slippers in the 1900 book "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by Frank L. Baum? You'll find out when you see "The Wiz."

Note: This Halloween emerald green is the new orange. Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale, an affiliate of Phoenix Theatre, performs “The Wiz” through Oct 31. Click here for show and ticketing information. When you go, be sure to welcome Maureen Dias-Watson, Greasepaint’s new producing director.

Coming up: Women playwrights and Arizona stages, The fine art of graduation gifts, Once upon a piano recital, Stop the “Glee” bashing!