Follow the Yellow Brick Road…
Promoted by the TV reality show and with an updated script, The Wizard of Oz has shaken off its 1939 look and moved into the new millennium. Even some of the old dialogue has been modernized with new jokes and puns. Since its opening earlier this year at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto, it has been attracting happy audiences of all ages.
The book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written in 1900, and became a Broadway musical in 1902, but wasn’t the version we’re familiar with today. In 1939 the iconic movie version came out, starring Judy Garland. The version that’s been on stage in recent years is a copy of the movie – that is until Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to update it for London’s West End. Following its success there, he decided to use the same recipe in Canada, selecting Dorothy on a reality show on CBC TV, then launching the musical which included some new songs and a punched-up script.
Last fall, CBC launched the hunt for Dorothy, auditioning young women from across Canada. Danielle Wade won the role which has made her the star of the musical now on stage at Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto. When she walks out, we immediately see that Danielle is a difference Dorothy. She appears in overalls, which seems a little disconcerting. In fact, everything is beige and brown and bland: from her overalls, to the farm hands clothes, to the faded clap-board house and rusty windmill.
Fortunately, Dorothy changes her clothes before she runs away from home, and arrives in Oz in the traditional blue gingham dress. Danielle sings beautifully, and does justice to “Over the Rainbow”, the song that everyone comes to hear.
Commanding the stage is Lisa Horner as the Wicked Witch of the West. Her fire-shooting broom and scary cackle are almost enough to frighten small children. She also brings some laughs to the role, especially when she appears in a box seat and startles the members of the audience sitting there.
Cedric Smith is perfect as Professor Marvel and The Wizard. You’ll remember him as the patriarch on the Road to Avonlea TV show.
The trio of Scare Crow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are all expertly presented by Jamie McKnight, Mike Jackson and Lee MacDougall. The Scare Crow has new lines to make children in the audience giggle, when he talks about thingies and whatchamacallits. The Tin Man squeaks and groans as he moves, and then offers a tap dance. When the poppies cast a sleeping spell over the Lion, he responds with “the Lion sleeps tonight”, and later when it snows he says he’s a “Lion in winter”.
Tilley the Norfolk Terrier is wonderful as Toto – no fake stuffed dogs in a basket appear in this production! But Tilley should be good! She’s well-experienced in the role, having played Toto at the Grand Theatre in London, as well as Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend and St. Jacobs Country Playhouse. With the long run of this production, Tilly decided to bring in help – her two brothers Neddy and Winny are her understudies.
The video special effects are impressive: we are taken right into the heart of the tornado. Sets and props are excellent: there is also a steampunk look with the generator used at the beginning of the show, and the Wizard’s set up. As well, there’s a clock theme, à la Wicked. Professor Marvel’s wagon with his magic lantern show is a delight and the yellow brick road is really a yellow brick treadmill for Dorothy and her trio to travel on.
If there are any disappointments, it might be that the choreography lacks excitement. What they were given is well-executed by the dancers, who are limited by costumes. As Munchkins, the women have hoop skirts, and as Winkies they are hobbled in long coats. The choreographer is Arlene Phillips of England, who was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s representative on the panel of the TV show to select Dorothy. She hasn’t used this talented Canadian cast of dancers to their full potential.
Nevertheless, this is a wonderful family show and an ideal way to introduce children to live theatre. The action is fast enough to hold their attention, and the witch and wizard scary enough to make it fun. Video special effects and lots of fire bring it into the 21st century. At the same time, it holds adults’ attention with updated dialogue, so all ages can enjoy it.
The Wizard of Oz continues with eight shows a week at Ed Mirvish Theatre. Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.
The Wizard of Oz
From the book by Frank L. Baum, based on the classic motion picture, adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams
Music by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, with additional music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and additional lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Jeremy Sams
Musical direction by Franklin Brasz
Choreography by Arlene Phillips
Performed by Danielle Wade, Cedric Smith, Lisa Horner, Mike Jackson, Lee MacDougall, Jamie McKnight, Robin Even Willis, Larry Mannell, Charlotte Moore et al.
Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto
Closes in Toronto Aug. 18 – Launches North American Tour in Las Vegas Sept. 10
Reviewed by Mary Alderson