Toto, played by Tilley, with the Scarecrow
The Wizard of Oz
Written by L. Frank Baum
Music and lyrics by Harold Arden and E. Y. Harburg
Directed by Susan Ferley
Musical direction by Mike Lerner, assisted by Floydd Rickets
Choreography by Kerry Gage, assisted by Doug Price
Grand Theatre, London
November 25 to January 3, 2009
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Follow the Yellow Brick Road…
An old favourite has been revived at the Grand Theatre. The Wizard of Oz is on their stage again, after just seven years. However, as director Susan Ferley points out, that’s a lifetime for some members of the Wizard’s audience.
The classic story of Dorothy’s adventures after a cyclone carries her away over the rainbow is fresh and lively in this new production. Sets and costumes are colourful and the cast’s energy is amazing.
A delightful chorus of 10 children makes this performance. The kids play several roles: Munchkins, Crows, Poppies, Apple Trees, Winkies, Jitterbugs and Ozians, They sing and dance their way through the show, keeping energy levels up as if they were professionals.
The rest of the cast maintains the pace. Adrienne Merrell is an animated Dorothy. Her trio of travellers are all well cast: Keith Savage as the Scarecrow/Hunk; Alana Bridgewater as the Cowardly Lion/Zeke; and Steven Gallagher as the Tin Woodsman/Hickory. Keith Savage is always a favourite Huron Country Playhouse, with his talent for song, dance and comedy. As the Scarecrow, he delights the audience with his stumbles and spins. Alana Bridgewater was the Killer Queen in Toronto’s We Will Rock You, the Queen musical. She has the opportunity to rock the Lion’s music in this production.
Jewell Blackman was last seen at the Grand as Deena in Dream Girls. As Miss Gultch and the Wicked Witch of the West, she too, rocks her numbers. Her green hair, twisted into a point, gives the audience a chuckle when she takes off her witch’s hat.
Stephanie Roth is a charming Glinda and a realistic Auntie Em, while Shane Carty is a quiet Uncle Henry but comes on strong as the Ozian guard, offering some laughs. Kawa Ada’s wizard is reminiscent of Joel Grey’s Wizard in Wicked, and he plays a charming Professor Marvel.
Almost stealing the show is Tilley, the Norfolk Terrier, as Toto. The well-trained four-legged actor performs on cue every time, and receives oohs and aahs from the audience every time she wagged her little tail. (For some great fun, visit the Grand’s website and read Tilly’s blog – she describes the rehearsals from her vantage point, 8 inches off the ground.)
The costumes are extraordinary. The Munchkins colourful assortment, through to the Ozians green outfits are all so eye-catching. But the favourite has to be the Jitterbugs. The children are dressed in Roaring Twenties style zoot suits and flapper dresses in shades of red, pink and purple, complete with bug antennae sticking out of their hats!
The sets are not to be outdone by the colourful costumes. Munchkinland is awash in psychedelic colours. Even the tornado was applauded! The pyrotechnic special effects were very well done – enough fire to scare a Scarecrow.
The choreography is outstanding. Both the adult cast members and the children have all the moves, from rock and roll to jazz and jitterbug jives, along with back-flips and cartwheels. And what dance does he Tin Man do? Why, the Can-Can, of course! Kudos to choreographer Kerry Gage and Assistant Choreographer Doug Price.
The vocals and music are exceptional, too, thanks to Musical Director Mike Lerner and Apprentice Musical Director Floydd Ricketts. This classic story has been dressed up with jazz, rock, doo-wop and more to keep it lively.
The old movie has some lulls in the action as the characters move towards the big meeting with the Wizard, but the Grand’s production as overcome any plot slowdowns with lively choreography and quick scene and costume changes. Children will love the show, and adults will not be disappointed.
The Wizard of Oz continues at the Grand Theatre in London until January 3. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 519-672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.