Wednesday, April 17, 2019

El Wiz

UCF Celebrates the Arts presented El Wiz as a staged reading at The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Based on a book by Paul Castañeda, the show was  originally conceived by Juan Cantu and Paul Castañeda. Paul sat house right reading stage directions for the staged reading.

The show was based on the Wizard of Oz but set in Puerto Rico just before Hurricane Maria hit the island. The Narrator, (Josh Ceballos) introduced the familiar cast of characters on the island. Chico, the scarecrow (Emile Doles) was a quiet and socially awkward man who had an eye for details no one else would notice.  Juanito, the tin man (Eric Parafan) had loved a man but had his heart broken. He felt he could never love again. Eddie, the lion, (Joe Llorens) just wanted some cajones. Dorothy (Crystal Lizardo) fell into a deep sleep before the hurricane hit. She woke or so she thought in a strange new place.

In this new world she was given a very blingy pair of Nike sneakers with red white and blue sequins. Her dog Toto was a puppet who came alive when she held him in her arms. From the start she wanted to return home to her Mami and Papi but she was instructed to go to the Emerald city for advice on how to get back home. The journey was fraught with dangers.

For me the most powerful number in the show was Vas A Ver, or You'll See in  English. Sung by Esperanza, (Paul Padilla) the song was about how the strength of family can overcome any hardship. He performed with just the right amount of resolve and throaty growl. His face grew so red as he sang that I was concerned he might burst a blood vessel. It was an amazing performance.

The joy of this show is that it takes itself lightly. There were many references to  Lin Manuel Miranda since the playwrights clearly were inspired by his musicals. The plot moved effortlessly and the actors playfully joked and teased one another. I have only studied Spanish in a cursory fashion on Duolingo, but I was able to follow every bit of the show.

When Dorothy finally got back to her home island it has been destroyed. She took the lessons learned in her dreams to gain strength in the belief that family can endure any difficulty. The cast and creative team deserved a standing ovation.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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