Ease on Down the Road with The Wiz

Yesterday, my son, R, and I attended the Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s production of “The Wiz.” We were guests of the company, the resident theatre group of Dorchester’s historic Strand Theatre, and it was such a pleasure to introduce R to Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, and the other residents of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

(L to R) Damien Norfleet as “Lion,” Quiana Holmes as “Dorothy”, Carl-Michael Ogle as “Scarecrow” and Justin Raymond Reeves as “Tin Man” | Courtesy of Fiddlehead Theatre Company/©mattmckeephoto.com

(L to R) Damien Norfleet as “Lion,” Quiana Holmes as “Dorothy”, Carl-Michael Ogle as “Scarecrow” and Justin Raymond Reeves as “Tin Man” | Courtesy of Fiddlehead Theatre Company/©mattmckeephoto.com

“The Wiz” is a modern retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic, “The Wizard of Oz,” set against a soundtrack of gospel, rock, and soul music. The Fiddlehead Theatre’s production was energetic with stand-out performances; my son loved the Lion, played Damien Norfleet, while I cheered loudly for Shana Dirik as Addaperle and Quiana Holmes as Dorothy. (A note on Quiana: she’s (just!) a sophomore at Berkelee, demonstrating that Boston is ripe with young talent.)

Damien Norfleet as “Lion” | Courtesy of Fiddlehead Theatre Company/©mattmckeephoto.com

Damien Norfleet as “Lion” | Courtesy of Fiddlehead Theatre Company/©mattmckeephoto.com

The show was not the typical “Wizard of Oz” many have grown up with; no brightly dressed Munchkins or ruby red slippers. Instead, the Fiddlehead Theatre’s production was edgier, combining steampunk and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” with a little bit of “A Clockwork Orange” thrown in. R and I enjoyed the show and our first visit to the nearly 100 year old Strand, which had long been recommended to me as a destination for professionally produced theatre in Boston.

The audience was a mix of theatregoers from all over Boston and its environs, supporting the Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s goal to be “accessible to the community,” explained Meg Fofonoff, the Company’s Producing Artistic Director during an after the show discussion with the audience. Added Stacey Stephens, the Company’s Associated Producing Artistic Director who directed the show and created its memorable costumes, “With ‘The Wiz,’ we aimed to present a new twist on the play that highlighted our multi-ethnic cast and was valid for today’s audience.”

Indeed, the cast, which represented ten different countries, brought great diversity to the stage. This enriched the show, and allowed the many children in attendance “to see themselves on the stage,” explained a member of the ensemble afterward. “That’s what theatre should be: the chance to learn about new cultures and to be someone else.”

meeting toto at the wizThe Fiddlehead Theatre’s commitment to education is another of its goals, and the members of the company offer youth programming and after the show talks to make theatre more accessible. The after the show talk R and I attended included William Berloni, a successful trainer of dogs for theatre and movies. It was his Cairn terrier who played Toto in this rendition of “The Wiz” and he also trained Sandy in the recent movie remake of “Annie.” R was thrilled to meet Toto after the show, and you can see the two of them in this picture.

I hummed “Ease on Down the Road” all the way home, while knowing my kid, R was working on his pitch to get a Toto of his very own!

While “The Wiz” has concluded its run, the Fiddlehead Theatre will present “Jesus Christ Superstar” in April and is currently selling subscriptions to its 2015-2016 season which will feature “West Side Story,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Rent,” and “Showboat.” Tickets sell for $25-$42, with discounts for students, seniors, and Dorchester residents. Learn more here. 

Disclosure: I received two complimentary tickets to “The Wiz.” All of the ideas included in this post, however, are mine.