It’s nearly impossible as an adult to hear “The Wizard of Oz” and not think about the 1939 classic movie. For many, including this writer, we grew up with the movie on television at least once a year. The creators of this musical (also behind the recent Sound of Music revival) have acknowledged the cultural significance of the movie and have created a theatrical performance which imbues the magic of the film while adding depth and pizazz.
Several songs by both Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have been added and while none of them are memorable outside of the performance, they do help to move the story along while maintaining the play’s musical genre, something that the film doesn’t do once Dorothy has reached The Land of Oz.
Broadway Across Canada’s sets and costumes are beautiful and are true to the dowdiness of Kansas and the surrealism of both Muchkin Land and Oz. As this is a travelling show and costs must be considered, the smallness of the Muchkins is achieved by casting shorter adults, also playing the roles the people of Oz and the Wicked Witch of The West’s guards.
Padded costumes – as well as posture – are used to imply the Munchkins’ stature. While it worked for some of the members, notably the Lollipop Guild, many of the troupe were the same height as Dorothy. The flying monkeys, who so delightfully terrified me as a child, were spectacular with great detail and wonderful movement. I wanted more of them, again making me think the ensemble could have been bigger.
Watch out for Dorothy’s dress as it changes colour. The magical, dream-like quality of the story is well interpreted through use of projections and lighting. The Great and Powerful Oz is well done as are the tornado and flying sequences.
Both the acting and singing are solid. While everyone is miked, I still noticed the difference in projection between seasoned stage actors such as Cedric Smith (Wizard/Professor Marvel) and a few of the other actors. It was difficult to hear them at times, even from our twelfth row seats. Danielle Wade, who won the role of Dorothy via the premiere of Canadian reality show “Over The Rainbow”, fits well in the “almost too old to be wearing a pinafore” role, created by a then 16-year-old Judy Garland.
Wade holds her own, providing the audience with a strong rendition of “Over The Rainbow”. Dorothy’s friends, The Scarecrow, The Tinman, and The Lion, are updated in their relationship to one another; gay undertones are present via several one-line jokes.
Lee MacDougall’s lion is lovable, although the song “If I Was King of the Forest” was missed. The Scarecrow (played by Jamie McKnight) is given new lines that poke fun at his inability to remember anything, making him an audience favourite. I felt Mike Jackson’s Tinman was given the short end of the stick as far as new lines are concerned. His vulnerability, achieved in the original film via closeups, is missed.
Of course I have to mention Toto. A live animal on stage, especially one that is so well trained as Nigel (who plays Toto), can only add to the cuteness factor. In this performance, it was double cuteness as the dog decided to give Dorothy a lick as she sang “Over the Rainbow”. I don’t think it was scripted but it stole everyone’s heart.
Those of us who know the Wizard of Oz movie script by heart will not be disappointed with this production. Those who are new to the wonderful world of Oz will find much to awe the eyes and fall in love with in characters who figure out where true love reigns and where evil is banished. The Wizard of Oz is directed by Jeremy Sams and continues through November 10 at Vancouver’s Queen E Theatre.