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Ease on Down the Rut: A Seemingly Endless Wiz

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The Black Rep concludes its season with the 1975 musical The Wiz, an African American retelling of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The score by the gifted Charlie Smalls (who died too soon in 1987 at age 43) percolates with rambunctious rhythms like "Ease on Down the Road" and "Everybody Rejoice."

Here too the stage can barely contain so many talented performers. As Dorothy from Kansas, Sarah Stephens has a winsome way with a lyric. Ian Coulter-Buford's Scarecrow, Herman Gordon's Lion and Keith Tyrone's Tin Man are all entertaining. At the top of Act Two, Raphaelle Darden re-energizes the show as wicked witch Evillene; as good witch Glinda, Sophia N. Stephens beautifully renders the score's most enduring ballad, "If You Believe." The Wiz offers a sly take on the title character. Cedric Neal's flamboyantly autocratic Wizard of Oz dominates the stage.

So there are many effective moments here. But they are isolated in a lethargic production that traverses the Yellow Brick Road at a snail's pace. Even the curtain call feels endless. By the end, you're liable to find new meaning in Dorothy's mantra that there's no place like home.

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