The Wizard of Oz: Emphasis is on the spectacle and technological wizardry

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo:  Keith Pattison 

Like the Tin Man, this version of The Wizard of Oz has a hollow ring because its heart is missing.

The emphasis is on the spectacle and technological wizardry. Such moments as the video of the tornado that transports the heroine, Dorothy, from Kansas to the other side of the rainbow into the fairytale Land of Oz may be breathtaking for some. The broom belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West that breathes fire, dragon-style, or the image of the menacing Wizard that is more over-the-top than Dr. Who may raise a gasp of admiration once. Just once.

But the key aspect of the production should be in caring about the characters, rather than simply viewing their passage through Oz from Munchkinland, through the scary forest and the Wicked Witch’s territory to the Wizard’s castle and back again to awaken in Kansas.

By contrast, the classic 1939 movie, starring Judy Garland — still the Dorothy that sets the standard — touched the heart. Set in the Depression, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, the difference between the dust bowl of the mid-west and the sunlight and optimism of Oz was marked. According to co-creator, E.Y. Harburg, the intent was to pay tribute to U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal in giving the U.S. back its courage, its heart and its brain — represented by Dorothy’s three companions along the Yellow Brick Road and her determination to find her way home.

This is not to say that the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice/Jeremy Sams adaptation of The Wizard of Oz is not very entertaining at times. The Cowardly Lion has some funny moments, for example, when he announces and demonstrates that “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” or throws in other well-known lion-related lines. Performances are generally effective, although Sarah Lasko’s Dorothy, while well sung, is a little too petulant at times. I would also like to see her show a little more genuine affection for Toto, rather than simply carrying him around as a live prop.

Some of the choreography by Arlene Philips, particularly a magnificent toe-tapping, club-beating and twirling number, is first-rate. Some of the scenic effects, especially the moving yellow brick road, are highly effective. But there are too many other moments and visuals that fall flat. For example, why is the violet of the rainbow displaced by shocking pink? Why is Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, so very flaky and the Wicked Witch of the West so much of a caricature?

The strongest scenes come towards the end of the show, particularly when Dorothy is bidding farewell to her companions and then waking to see them in their other incarnation, and understanding the warmth of being at home and being loved.

The Wizard of Oz continues at the National Arts Centre to January 3, 2016.

Based on the book by L. Frank Baum

Music by Harold Arlen

Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg

Adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams

Additional lyrics by Tim Rice

Additional music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams

Troika Entertainment/Broadway Across Canada

Director: Jeremy Sams

Technical Director: Randy Moreland

Musical supervisor: Graham Hurman

Music director: David Andrews Rogers

Choreographer: Arlene Philips

Lighting: Hugh Vanstone

Sound: Mick Potter

Video design: Jon Driscoll

Cast:

Dorothy……………………………………………………..Sarah Lasko

Professor Marvel/The Wizard………………………………Mark A. Harmon

MissGgulch/Wicked Witch of the West………………………Shani Hadhan

Hunk/Scarecrow…………………………………………….Morgan Reynolds

Hickory/Tin Man……………………………………………Jay McGill

Zeke/Lion……………………………………………………Aaron Fried

Glinda………………………………………………………..Rachel Womble

Uncle Henry………………………………………………….Randy Charleville

Auntie Em……………………………………………………Emmanuelle Zeesman

Toto…………………………………………………………..Nigel

Ensemble:

Danielle Behrens, Amy Button, Randy Charleville, Diego Diaz, Will Geoghegan, Beau Hutchings, Nick Morgan, Justin G. Nelson, Nick Picknally, Dominick Sannelli, Jenna Brooke Scannelli, Maggie Spicer, Alex Swift, Adam Vanek, Kaley Were, Emmanuelle Zeesman, Dorsey Ziller

Dance captains…………………………. Shannon Walsh, Kyle White


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