Theater Review: Student voices wow in ‘The Wiz’

The Scarecrow, played by Zach Piser, sings “A Brand New Day.”

Sam Freedman, Columnist

Although to wide-eyed freshmen Evanston may feel like a new world, it’s no Emerald City. Bringing the land of Oz to mid-campus would prove challenging for anyone — especially Northwestern students lacking a Broadway budget.

Sit & Spin’s production of “The Wiz” should be commended for its resourcefulness. Director/choreographer John Allman and producer Austin James have managed to stage a modernized version of film classic “The Wizard of Oz” that’s visually and auditorily arresting, and all without the freedom of a seven-digit budget. Their secret weapon: a swath of NU’s most talented performers. From the moment Christine Jones (trendily dressed Dorothy) and Emily Olcott (a sweet-faced Aunt Em) sing out longingly in “The Feeling We Once Had,” one is apt to immediately forgive the minimal set dressings and closed-off appearance of the Shanley Pavilion stage. It doesn’t matter if we’re in Evanston or Oz; these guys sound fantastic.

Angel-voiced Zach Piser’s Scarecrow, Josh Kohane’s endearingly sad-eyed Tin Man, and Ryan Duncan’s eponymous wizard lend plenty of charm to the regrettably rushed proceedings (this “Wiz” plays like an outline of the original, with staple songs serving as the closest thing to plot points). Most remarkable are Gaby Hornig as the courage-less Lion and a fiery Carly Cozad playing the Wicked Witch of the West (appropriately named Evillene). The first infuses his goofy performance with genuine sorrow, and the latter just about steals the show in a single-scene appearance with her enjoyably manic “No Bad News.”

Allman’s choreography is appealing, and many of the show’s up-to-the-minute riffs on technology and pop culture are actually funny. If “The Wiz” were a little less abbreviated, I have no doubt that these gifted student actors could develop their characters past the underwhelming pit of two-dimensionality. Their voices, however, are something to behold.