There’s No Place Like Home
London’s Grand Theatre, apparently, has a plan to produce Wizard of Oz every seven years. It was their Christmas musical in 2002 and again in 2009. As former Artistic Director Susan Ferley pointed out, seven years is a lifetime for their target audience. And so, for the third time in 14 years, the Emerald City is back on the Grand’s stage.
There is a unique twist in this production, not seen in the previous versions. Professor Marvel and the Wizard morph into a 1938 film director who uses a megaphone and pushes around big movie camera, and occasionally images are projected onto a screen on the back of the stage. Director Rick Miller is known for his use of projections, so this was a logical addition.
Frank L. Baum, who penned the children’s novel, Wizard of Oz, in 1900, would no doubt be amazed at seeing his characters brought to life, including a wicked witch with pyrotechnics! But the classic story is a constant. Dorothy, upset that her nasty neighbour, Mrs. Gulch, wants to destroy her little dog Toto, runs away. She is swept up in a horrible tornado which carries her to the Land of Oz. Strangely, everyone there looks a little bit like the folks back home – Her Auntie Em is Glinda, the good witch; Uncle Henry is the Wizard’s guard; the farm hands Hickory, Hunk, and Zeke are the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion; the evil Mrs. Gulch is the Wicked Witch and Professor Marvel is the Wizard. Dorothy longs to return home to Kansas, and eventually arrives there. We are left to wonder – was it all a bad dream from a bump on the head during the tornado, or is there really an Oz?
The trio of Kyle Blair (Scarecrow), Bruce Dow (Cowardly Lion), and Marcus Nance (Tin Man) bring life to this show. Blair is suitably wobbly and endearing as Scarecrow, Dow is hilarious with his lion-like speech pattern, and Nance is charming as the squeaky tin man. These three possess amazing singing voices.
Carly Street commands the stage as the Wicked Witch. She’s brought the character into the 21st century with some cool talk and crazy, witty repartee. George Masswohl is a kindly Professor Marvel, a humbug wizard, and then really shines in his presentations to the trio. He’s a kindly Colonel Sanders as he’s about to board the big balloon.
Marie McDunnough is lovely Glinda, while Trevor Patt is a very agitated and funny Wizard’s Guard, and Michelle Bouey is a sweet Dorothy. Bouey is making use of her experience on the reality TV show “Over the Rainbow”, where she was among the top 10 finalists to be in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of Wizard of Oz.
The young company rounds out the cast, singing and dancing in imaginative, colourful costumes as Munchkins, poppies and Winkies. My personal favourite is the jitterbug dance in the zoot suits, thanks to choreographer Kerry Gage.
The audience loves Neddy, a cute, little well-trained terrier taking the part of Toto. He gets “oooohs and awwwwws” every time he appears on stage. Understudying Neddy is his sister Tilley, who starred in the Grand’s 2009 version. The pair and their brother Winny have played Toto in many other productions of Wizard of Oz. Kudos to handler Terry Shevchenko for the four-legged furry actors.
The Wizard of Oz continues at the Grand Theatre, London until December 31. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: Young company with Bruce Dow as the Cowardly Lion, Kyle Blair as Scarecrow, Carly Street as the Wicked Witch, Michelle Bouey as Dorothy and Marcus Nance as Tinman. Photo by Claus Anderson.
The Wizard of Oz – 2016
By Frank L. Baum
Music & Lyrics by Harold Arlen & E. Y. Harburg
Directed by Rick Miller
Musical Direction by Ryan deSouza
Choreographed by Kerry Gage
Performed by Michelle Bouey, Kyle Blair, Bruce Dow, Marcus Nance, Carly Street, George Masswohl, Marie McDunnough, Trevor Patt, et al.
Grand Theatre, London
November to December 31, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson