Reviews: The Wizard of Oz and Two Rooms

by Lynn on February 2, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, February 1, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM THE WIZARD OF OZ at the Ed Mirvish Theatre and TWO ROOMS at the Berkeley Street Theatre upstairs until February 3.

The host was Rose Palmieri.

1) Good Friday Morning. It’s that time of the morning for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn. What do you have for us this week?

I’m reviewing THE WIZARD OF OZ the musical based on the beloved film and book, and TWO ROOMS, which we saw together, produced by Théâtre français de Toronto.

2) Let’s start with THE WIZARD OF OZ.

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

I think we all know the story.

The sweet and precocious Dorothy gets swept up in a tornado in on her Aunt and Uncle’s farm in Kansas and lands in the land of Oz where she gets into all manner of adventures with some pals: A scarecrow who wants a brain; a lion who wants courage and a tin man who wants a heart.

There is a wizard who they think will solve their problems. A wicked witch with green skin who is one of their problems. And Glinda a good witch in a sparkly gown who floats everywhere.

It’s a lovely story of friendship, tenacity and realizing you often already have what you want and more.

3) How do you put an iconic film of an equally notable book on stage?

Director Jeremy Sams and his creative 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 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.

3) What do you say when people compare the musical with the movie?

PHOOEY, usually. It’s a ridiculous notion. They are two different art forms. You don’t compare anybody with Judy Garland for example.

4) Ok that said, how does the Canadian cast do?

As Dorothy, Daniele Wade is the people’s choice, having gone through a gruelling series of public auditions on the CBC. Personally I think it has more to do with gimmickry than anything else.

That said, Ms Wade is charming, 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.

I do have a problem with the smothering presence of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

With Andrew Lloyd Webber’s name all over this production, as producer, 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 were written by E.Y. Harburg.

For some reason Lloyd Webber and his lyricist Tim Rice felt that this musical film needed additional music and songs.

And so we have 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).

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.

This schism doesn’t spoil all the things that are good about the production of The Wizard of Oz. 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.

5) Let’s move on to Two Rooms.

Written by Mansel Robinson. Produced by Théâtre français where we saw it in one of their surtitled performances.

Two people are giving their confessions, their sides
of a story. So it’s done mostly in short monologues to the audience.

Mercier is a white cop in Quebec I assume. He talks about the war outside, how it has affected him, and his attitudes about what happened on September 11, 2001. And he admits that he killed his wife.

In another room at another time perhaps we hear from the wife Maha. She met Mercier when he was on vacation. They come from different cultures. She’s a doctor. Accomplished. And a Muslim. She marries him. Moves to Canada and can’t work in her chosen profession. There is comment and resentment about that. Why can’t she work in her new country as a doctor. She also gets side-long looks on planes whenever she opens her laptop on the plane. People jump to conclusions and assume she’s a terrorist bomber. Prejudices are deep.

She decides to open a craft store and has to travel to buy the products. In one of her travels she meets a man and has an affair. She tells Mercier. The play goes from there.

6) It’s a small play dealing with large subjects. Do you think the play succeeds in conveying its message?

Partially. They touched on the difficulty that immigrants have in working in their chosen profession when they move her. The frustration and anger is well developed. The separate monologues is always an interesting technique. But there is so much that seems either unsaid or undeveloped.

Mercier’s comment about the war outside was confusing—I was thinking which war? In Canada? Then we’re told it’s the war on terror—I wouldn’t have thought any sensible person would have taken that phrase as real.

When the characters do address each other it is in conversation I thought would have taken place years before when they were courting. There is little detail as to why she fell in love with her lover.

The production is pared down, spare and effective. As Mercier, Jean Marc Dalpé who also translated it, is a bull of a man, forthright, in your face, angry.

As Maha, Elkahna Talbi is gracious, demure and feisty when she has to be.

It’s directed with economy and a good eye for the vivid picture by Geneviève Pineault. So I liked the production, but I think the play could use another look.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

The Wizard of Oz continues at the Ed Mirvish Theatre

Two Rooms plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre upstairs until Feb. 3

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