Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Wacky "Wizard"

An updated "Wizard of Oz" retains some of the classic film's sparkle, but new additions can bog it down.

In Oz

What is that famous phrase? "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

I feel no phrase applies better to Andrew Lloyd Webber's update to The Wizard of Oz than this. I may be alone in my feelings, but the addition of several new tunes and the seeming burdens of technological practicality on traveling stageshows didn't leave me with the wondrous feeling I have come to expect from the great Wizard. 

I will assume all readers have seen, or at least heard enough of, the extraordinary 1939 film to relieve me of having to repeat the plot (and if not, SHAME! Go find a copy immediately, lock yourself in your apartment, and don't leave until you've seen it at least five times and cried frequently about the years you've spent in ignorance). I suspect the entire draw of even concocting a stage show is the special effects, so we can start there. 

Wizard's blessing (and unfortunately, curse) is its heavy use of the projector/scrim combo. In terms of creating a sepia effect for Dorothy's time in Kansas, it is spectacular; combined with an awesomely, bafflingly 2D (but interactive) set, it provides a gorgeous backdrop for the home-front. 

Oz, however, does not fare so well. The scrims, so convincing and movie-tastic in the Kansas
portions of the show, begin to edge into Douglas Adams territory, sweeping Dorothy's house through space (?!) to Oz, showering colorful rainbow sparkles on things, and generally just becoming the go-to for any bit of "magic" Oz has to offer. Which is a pity - we know from shows like Mary Poppins, Wicked, Beauty and the Beast, and yes, even the Lion King, that it would be possible to have the Wicked Witch or her monkeys fly over the audience, Glinda arrive in a bubble, Munchkins actually be sized like Munchkins, and "animals" wear more than fuzzy pajama suits. I'm not sure if it was bedazzlement from the projector/scrim technology, or a fear of having to haul 'too many' set pieces, but there's a lack of real life wonder in this production, the "how the hell did they pull that off?" that makes Broadway so magical to all. If any show deserves it, it's this one, and I didn't find it here.

That being said, this is far from a dud, and some characterizations are especially appealing. As the Cowaradly Lion, Lee MacDougall provides some much needed comedic relief, and is clearly the sweetest of Dorothy's three wise Ozians. The surprising stereotypical 'gay' edge he adds to the Lion is also a funny twist. 

I found Danielle Wade's voice a little more "Ariel" than "Dorothy," but she grew on me as the play continued, and far and away I found her the most "authentic" to the movie of the cast. It didn't hurt that she carried an adorable live Toto with her at every turn, but her voice is lovely and winsome and just what the Wizard ordered.

Mike Jackson does a stellar physical portrayal of the Tin Man, even if his vocal characterization falls flat. And Jacquelyn Donovan is disappointing as the Wicked Witch - nowhere near shrill or terrifying enough to convince you of her evil power. 

Musical standouts included a gorgeous reprise of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in Act 2, and a couple of the new tunes ("Bring Me the Broomstick" and "Already Home") also fit in well. "Hail-Hail! The Witch is Dead" featured excellent choregorpahy, mixing a wide range of tangoes, Russian stomp dancing, acrobatics and more for a visceral piece. 

The long story short: take your kids. The Wizard of Oz is made for kids, and they will have a great time (whether there's too much scrim or not). If you can only afford to see one show this year, I'm not sure this is the one you'll want to see - but it's still worth a look if you can make it. After all, it is the Wizard of Oz