The Wiz | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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"Don't nobody bring me no bad news," growls the wicked witch Evillene in this all-black, street-smart version of The Wizard of Oz. Happily, there's no bad news to bring: this extravagant touring revival of the 1975 Broadway hit is a joy to watch and listen to. William F. Brown's alternately tender and wisecracking script and the high-energy gospel-funk score by Charlie Smalls and Luther Vandross celebrate and contemporize L. Frank Baum's fabulous fable about friendship and self-affirmation. Jazz choreographer George Faison's spruced-up but stripped-down staging turns the show into an Afro-Caribbean carnival, dramatizing the tornado, the poppy field, the journey down the yellow brick road, and other landmarks of the Oz legend as imaginative, lavishly costumed dance fantasies. The dynamite supporting cast includes Garry O. Lewis's slyly charming Scarecrow, H. Clent Bowers's droll Lion, Andre De Shields's con-artist preacher of a wizard, Ella Mitchell's Mahalia-Jackson-meets-Jabba-the-Hut Evillene, and Toni Seawright's glamorous good witch Glinda; they and the rest of the unstintingly energetic ensemble bring not only enormous talent and technique but also a burst of generous good feeling to the occasion. And tiny Stephanie Mills, a supple-voiced, surprisingly credible Dorothy though well into her 30s, sings up a storm--her go-for-broke rendition of the climactic ballad "Home" is thrilling and touching, a bona fide musical-theater event. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 902-1500. Through October 18: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $13-$37.50.

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