Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: Over the Top Wizard of Oz, Oh My

Original Toronto Cast. Photos by Cylla Von Tiedemann 

When one decides to redo a classic musical like The Wizard of Oz, one presumably does so because one has a vision that might improve upon, or at least add to, the original. The bar is set pretty high when the property is one of the most beloved movie musicals of all time but, hey, I can go with it – especially if it works.

Unfortunately, the adaptation that just opened at the Pantages Theatre is about as superficial as it gets. It may have been successful when it opened in Toronto, but for my taste, adding a bunch of cheap jokes, hokey choreography, and regrettable new songs doesn’t begin to enhance my experience of the wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Much of the difficulty comes from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams’ adaptation which shortcuts the story down to the basics and injects large amounts of yuk yuk humor that is as puzzling as it is superfluous. Lee McDougall’s Lion has been reinvented as a vaudeville jokester but Sams directs him to be so over the top that he hasn’t a chance of being funny. The witches, Glinda the Good (Robin Evan Willis) and the Wicked Witch of the West (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan), both feel like Vegas drag queens vying for who gets the biggest billing. The former isn’t charming or sincere and the latter is a cartoonish upscale version of H.R. Pufnstuf’s Witchipoo in a glittering Mae West gown, not the least bit scary. Thank goodness for two flying monkeys who actually were frightening.

Mike Jackson has little to do as the Tin Man but what he does is happily grounded in an honest interpretation of the role. Veteran actor Cedric Smith brings life to Professor Marvel and the Wizard without resorting to melodrama.

Danielle Wade won the role of Dorothy for the Toronto production of The Wizard of Oz on the Canadian television show “Over the Rainbow” and headlines the touring cast. Her Dorothy is pretty and perky, with a pleasant but thin soprano voice that occasionally gets swallowed up on the cavernous Pantages stage. The orchestra is terrific but there is so much treble in the microphones both for the instruments and the singers that the music feels like it might lift off along with Dorothy and her house enroute to Oz. Luckily Harold Arlen & E.Y. Harburgs original songs sound as wonderful as ever, a big plus since the addition of Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s new songs may have worked in theory but as executed will hardly be remembered.

Danielle Waade, Mike Jackson and Lee MacDougall

To do the transporting from one location to another, Daniel Brodie recreates Jon Driscoll’s excellent video projections for the road. The grainy sepia tones work dramatic stage magic in combination with Hugh Vanstones dynamic lighting. Together they simulate the tornado’s blustery winds and swirling passageways that transport Dorothy to and from the land of the Munchkins, much like a dustbowl Alice in Wonderland falling down the proverbial rabbit hole. In contrast, Oz is coated in bright primary colors and storybook images that capture the spectacle of a picturesque fairytale land where crows sing and florescent flowers glow under a black light sky.

It’s possible that I just couldn’t get past my own expectations for The Wizard of Oz and as such the experience was not as successful for me as it might be for others. Camping up the humor of a cherished musical that is inherently full of sweetness, whimsy and heart, and pushing it to the point of Panto made it seem as hollow as the Tin Man’s empty chest. At least before he made the journey. 

Sept. 17 - Oct. 6, 2013
Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028

Tues. - Thurs. at 7:30pm, Fri. at 8pm, 2pm & 8pm, and Sun. at 1pm & 6:30pm
Tickets: (800) 982-2787 or

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