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Robert Morast, Published July 24 2009

Morast: Stellar reputation traps Trollwood

The new south Moorhead home of the Trollwood Performing Arts School is gorgeous, peaceful and inspiring.

All the press and praise it’s been receiving is justified.

However, after checking out Trollwood’s take on “The Wiz” I can’t shake the feeling that Trollwood put so much emphasis on the move to new grounds that this year’s performance was ignored a bit.

Because, after years of musicals that amazed viewers and built expectations of awe, this season’s show feels off.

The biggest problem, along with some shaky vocals the night I was there, is that Trollwood’s version of “The Wiz” doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Keep in mind, “The Wiz” was an updated, urban take on “The Wizard of Oz” that served as a commentary on African-American life in the ’70s ghettos, touching on topics like urban blight and escaping stereotypes.

These are great topics for any stage troupe to explore – even in the white-washed world of the Red River Valley.

But Trollwood’s decision to further update “The Wiz” creates a culture clash.

By placing “The Wiz” in contemporary suburbia with characters relying on upper-class tools like GPS devices and station wagons minus the angst of oppression, much of the effect of the original “Wiz” is lost.

Paired with a dialogue with plenty of the lingo and flavor of ’70s black culture and it’s an imbalanced presentation more curious than captivating.

Then there’s the fact that the most “ethnic” examples in Trollwood’s “Wiz” are the cultural caricatures of crows and monkeys – it almost comes off like blackface.

I understand why Trollwood did “The Wiz,” to connect to the legacy of its very first show, “The Wizard of Oz.” But it would have been wiser to have just updated the original “Oz.”

Yet, it’s easy to think that the biggest problem with Trollwood’s “Wiz” isn’t a questionable reimagination, but rather the fact that this year’s Trollwood show is just OK.

Following season after season of productions that felt Broadway-caliber, we’re just not ready to accept anything less.

That’s the difficulty of being great. Very good won’t cut it. And with a new home that’s as spectacular as Trollwood’s performance reputation, audiences expect the best.

Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518 or rmorast@forumcomm.com