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    (L-R front): Lauren Basco, Dawn Robinson, Aaron Draper in Nicholas Leichter: The Whiz
    Photo by Steven Schreiber
    (L-R front): Lauren Basco, Dawn Robinson, Aaron Draper

    Oz in the East Village

    Nicholas Leichter Dance smokes Joe's Pub


    The Whiz: Emerald City certainly takes us on a journey through Oz. 19 separate songs give a musical theater feel, and a stripped-down production gives an East Village flavor to this homage/reimagination of the Broadway/Michael Jackson Wiz .

    Choreography by: Nicholas Leichter.
    Directed by: Nicholas Leichter and Monstah Black.
    Produced by: Brian McCormick.
    Dancers: Lauren Basco, Monstah Black, Wendell Cooper, Aaron Draper, Nicholas Leichter, Stephanie Liapis, David Parker, Dawn Robinson, Laurie Taylor, Keon Thoulouis, Yozmit.
    Costumes by: Monstah Black, nldnyc, Yozmit.
    Additional choreography: Wendell Cooper.
    Joe's Pub
    March 18-20, 2010

    The piece opens in a desultory tumble of t-shirted youth looking very "Hair" or seventies slouchy. Somewhat timid singing by Nicholas Leichter and Aaron Draper, joining Monstah Black, gives this opening a bit of uh-oh. The combination of a tiny stage, casual clothes and partner-switching also gives the opening "Feeling that We Have" an awkward feel.

    Leichter's solo for "Can I Go On?" quickly puts most fears to rest through sheer flash, though the toy water pistol he pulls out of his jacket is just odd and a little disturbing as he points it around and at himself.

    Monstah Black unfortunately seems a bit out of his element as he tries to pull off mainly a capella entertainment while walking through the aisles. This is an issue for much of the early sections of The Whiz, as if music has gone missing or been pulled from the show last-minute for rights/licensing reasons. It is the most distracting aspect of the stripped-down production. But enough of that; Aaron Draper blowing Dawn Robinson's Diana Ross wig with a handheld fan is one hilarious argument for "less is more."

    And things stay hot for a while, as a quartet reprises "You Can't Win", introduced last year at the Joyce and still a joy to watch as all aboard throw it down and get funky with it.

    The duo of Leichter and Wendell Cooper werk in a song that didn't make it into the PG version of the original musical. "Slide Some Oil", about lubricating parts that aren't normally lubricated, gives them extra excuse for fierceness, and they take full advantage.

    Aaron Draper rides a fine line between goofy and gladiator in his turn as boxer Rocky, popping and locking convincingly as a skinny white boxer.

    "Papi", the group piece that follows, is the jewel of the show, to a classic instrumental jam via Quincy Jones, with each dancer doing their sexy bit to raise the shorts of the spent boxer as they enter the stage. The dancing just smokes.

    There is sexiness everywhere in this show, with humor constantly lurking in the shadows. "Be a Lion" gives the humor a chance onstage as guest performer David Parker does a singing turn as the Oz lion.

    "Juicy Fruit" is certainly that, a group piece in gold and lamé that is an excellent adieu to the dance numbers in the piece.

    "Wicked Witch of the East Village" reminds us both of the inspiration and the aesthetic of this Whiz as a plastic-wrapped Yozmit does an androgynous song as an extraterrestrial being with lit nipples and a space bubble faceguard.

    The last two segments are refreshing and sweet as we say goodbye first to the stellar cast — Lauren Basco, Black, Cooper, Draper, Stephanie Liapis, Parker, Robinson, Yozmit and relative newcomers to the company, Laurie Taylor and Keon Thoulouis — and finally to Leichter, who dons the ruby slippers and goes "Home" to end the show.

    MARCH 22, 2010

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