Review: The Wizard of Oz

by Lynn on January 26, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Ed Mirvish Theatre. Based on the novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and the film, The Wizard of Oz, screenplay by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf. Adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams. Music by Harold Arlen. Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg. Additional music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Additional lyrics by Tim Rice. Directed by Jeremy Sams. Designed by Robert Jones. Lighting by Hugh Vanstone. Sound by Mick Potter. Video and projection design by Jon Driscoll, Choreography by Arlene Phillips.Starring: Lisa Horner, Mike Jackson, Lee MacDougall, Jamie McKnight, Cedrick Smith, Danielle Wade, and Robin Evan Willis.

First there was the book by L. Frank Baum entitled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written in 1900, beloved by generations of people over the years. Then came the beloved film (1939), and now comes the Canadian production of the London musical by the same name.

The program is rather cheeky in its stinginess of information. It says that composer/producer Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Jeremy Sams adapted this show, but it doesn’t tell you from what it was adapted. Was it the novel? Was it the film? Was it a combination of both? I would like to know. Any reference to L. Frank Baum and the film is in the tiniest printing, and there is no reference to the three credited writers of the screenplay.

The story is basically the same. Dorothy is feeling unappreciated by her Auntie Em and her Uncle Henry, who have adopted her when her parents died. She lives on their farm in Kansas and lives a life in which she is loved by the farmhands Hickory, Zeke and Hunk and not loved by Miss Gulch. Miss Gulch is a bicycle riding harpy who dislikes many things including Dorothy’s dog, Toto and threatens to call the authorities to take the dog away for bad behaviour. Toto, smart dog, is adaptable and dislikes Miss Gulch in turn.

Dorothy is frantic about this and doesn’t think her Aunt and Uncle are very supportive. They don’t want to hear what happened, even though they send Miss Gulch on her way. Dorothy decides to run away. But a storm is brewing. She meets a charming ‘professor’, Professor Marvel, a traveling magician of sorts, who tells her of the wonders of the world, but urges her to go home because of the storm.

Dorothy not only gets caught up in the tornado, she gets swept away to the land of Oz in which the green skinned Wicked Witch of the West wrecks havoc on the good folks and Glinda the good witch floats around and above the good folks giving the Wicked Witch a run for her money. She meets a Scarecrow who wants a brain; a Tin Man who wants a heart and a Lion who wants courage. All Dorothy wants is to go home. They are told to see the Wizard of Oz who is all powerful and will solve their problems. They endure all manner of trials and tribulations. They find the wizard. He can’t help them. He’s a fake. Dorothy and her friends realize they had what they wanted all along and find their way home.

Director Jeremy Sams and his creative team of Robert Jones (design) Hugh Vanstone (Lighting), Mitch Potter (sound) and Jon Driscoll (video and projection design) have created Dorothy’s world beautifully. First there is Kansas and the angry sky that will give way to an impressive hurricane. Then there is the colourful world of Oz with Munchkins, foliage, giant fruit, flying monkeys, and the dangerous world of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Sams has had a hugely successful career directing everything from the classics to farces to dramas to opera. He has a keen theatrical flair as was seen with his impressive production of The Sound of Music of a few years ago in which he directed the London production and the Canadian cast of it here in Toronto.

I was concerned at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz when various characters scurried back and forth across the stage looking for Dorothy, or preparing for the storm. The sound seemed murky and too loud to actually make out what was being said. But that straightened out as the show went on.

Sams’ pace is fluid and brisk. The tornado scene is hugely theatrical without making us think the theatricality has more to do with film and pyrotechnics. And besides being fierce, the tornado also has wit and whimsy as all sorts of stuff flies by and is sucked up into the funnel.
As Dorothy, Danielle Wade is the people’s choice, having gone through a grueling series of public auditions. Personally I think it has more to do with gimmickry than anything else. That said, Ms Wade is charming, disarming, innocent, feisty and awkward in a perfect way for Dorothy. She has a smile for days and a strong voice with acting smarts to bring out the poignancy of the original songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. As the Wicked Witch of the West, Lisa Horner has a field day sashaying around the stage terrifying anyone in her face, except Glinda.

As Glinda Robin Evan Willis is as poised and gracious as the Wicked Witch is a harridan. And gliding with grace above the stage in a glittery dress will get you points too. The cast is strong as is the singing and acting. Arlene Phillips’ choreography is energetic.

With Andrew Lloyd Webber’s name all over this production, as producer with his name above the title, as composer of eight extra songs or pieces of music and as co-adaptor with Jeremy Sams, one would think he had actually written The Wizard of Oz. He didn’t. The simple, effective original music was written by Harold Arlen. The eloquent, effective original lyrics to those songs, so appropriate for the characters who sing them, were written by E.Y. Harburg. For some reason Lloyd Webber and his lyricist Tim Rice felt that this musical based on the classic musical film needed additional music and songs. And so what we have is the usual Lloyd Webber penchant for endlessly repeating chords of the song he wants to be the hit (one assumes “Over the Rainbow” wasn’t good enough for him). So we have chords from a song that are repeated and repeated and we have no choice but to have the memory of it in our brain, like the lingering whiff of strong perfume that sticks to ones clothes long after its usefulness. And Tim Rice continues to write the most clever, witty lyrics without any regard to the fact that many of the people singing the songs would never express themselves in that esoteric manner. “Wonders of the World” says less about the cleverness of Professor Marvel who sings it in The Wizard of Oz (even though we know nothing about him) than it does about the cleverness of Tim Rice. This schism doesn’t spoil all the things that are good about the production of The Wizard of Oz—one expects this wretched excess from Lloyd Webber. I just found it sadly amusing. The production is well worth a visit and is a terrific introduction to the theatre for a kid, but not one that is too young.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Appavance April 9, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Your location is valueble for me. Thanks!

billig Nike Free 3.0