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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE WIZ (article first published : 2006-07-23)

The Wiz is the sixth production of Unilever’s innovative Young Performers project produced by Linda van der Veen of Snazzi Events, which endeavours to help build local young performing talent. And hats off to this corporate sponsor which continues to help grow this rather neglected area of our theatre development in South Africa.

This is the fifth production Themi Venturas has directed for this particular project and this man knows how to extract the best from his young cast, crew and technical team within limited budgets. Vocal Director Charon Williams-Ros, also continues to stamp her edible mark on budding young performers in the project. Dawn Selby (Musical Director), Jane Hare (choreographer) and Peter Court (set and costume design) appeared to have all collaborated as a tight team setting high standards for the production.

Venturas has assembled a huge cast of 38 school-goers from a variety of backgrounds - private school youngsters performing alongside learners from less affluent areas –obviously having loads of fun while working in a highly technical production with profession backup.

If audiences are hoping to have a sugary-sweet, Judy Garland experience, they are in for a surprise. While based on - and true to the storyline of - the 1939 movie, this is the rock-pop version by William Brown and Charlie Smalls. So expect to have a bright, psychedelic and upbeat encounter.

While much of the show is ensemble work, the principles all demonstrated individual talent which should see many of them gracing our stages and TV sets in the near future. It is really difficult to single out people, especially when one is aware of the enormous efforts every cast member has made, however, some do deserve mention:

Sophie Basckin as Dorothy impressed with her vocal talent, Cavin Sewell as Scarecrow delighted with his sense of comic timing, Bradley Marshall as Tinman charmed with his incredible focus and attention to detail, Bandhile Hlope as Lion, thrilled with his humour, timing and characterisation and Sazi Nzama must have been the best Toto yet. This young man, who had no lines to say, treated this role with such subtle professionalism and dedication – he was enchanting.

Other mentions must be made of Pume Zondi (who was in the inaugural Unilever Young Performers production in 2001 and was one of the top ten Idols last year) showed us how experience can fine-tune a performer. The totally over-the-top hip and cool Wiz is played impressively by Babuyile Shabalala.

Clearly great fun was had by the witches - Amy Saville, Minnie Dlamini and Jessica Sole – each had a good sense of characterisation and comic timing combined with strong vocal talent. Mention has to be made too of the dance of the Crows – in the scene when Dorothy meets Scarecrow. These guys can really “boogie on down”!

The Wiz is a highly entertaining and colourful production by young people, which clearly oozes talent, enthusiasm and commitment from the cast, band and crew. It has a contagious energy that could keep Cape Town lit for a year!

This Unilever Young Performers show is produced by Snazzi Events & Unilever and runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until July 23. Book through Computicket – Charlotte Fairfax




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