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BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming

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BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Danielle Wade as Dorothy, Jamie McKnight as
Scarecrow, Lee MacDougall as Lion, Mike Jackson as
Tin Man. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von
Tiedemann.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's beloved classic film THE WIZARD OF OZ has been re-adapted for the stage by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams. The splashy show features Harold Arlen's original music and E.Y. Harburg's original lyrics, with additional lyrics by Tim Rice and additional music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Flying audiences over the rainbow, this musical is sentimental, family-friendly schmaltz that entertains with ease.

Having heard the show's 2011 London Palladium Recording and reading about the show in London and Toronto, I wasn't expecting to enjoy this re-worked version of the film. To my surprise, I found myself quite charmed by the production and its talented cast. This adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ presents the familiar story in a way that feels lovingly inspired by the film while being just different enough to remind the audience that it is its own entity as well. Armed with a battery of spectacular projections, beautiful sets, gorgeous costumes, and a capable cast, the audience follows Dorothy and Toto from Kansas to Oz and on her famed quest to bring The Wizard the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Direction by Jeremy Sams ensures the production is exactly what the audience expects. Throughout much of the production, the cast has a cartoonish zeal to their line delivery. They overact in a delightfully spirited way, hooking in all the children in the audience. However, it is not overdone. It walks a fine line between too much and just right, ensuring that every adult in the audience is able to enjoy the show as well. Additionally, in all of the iconic characters, the audience can see trappings of the performances delivered in the 1939 film, but each lead puts their own unique mark on the role and makes it his or her own too.

Choreography by Arlene Philips is altogether cutesy and effervescent. Her aesthetic for the movements in most of the big group numbers is decidedly 1920s, reminding audiences of the happy times before the Great Depression and World War II. For the Act II "Bacchanalia" dance, her movements are darker and steamier, but still G-rated enough that no kids have to have their eyes covered.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Danielle Wade as Dorothy. Original Toronto Cast.
Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Danielle Wade's Dorothy is sweetly doe-eyed and appealing. She opens the show with the telling "Nobody Understands Me" and follows it with an enchanting take on "Over the Rainbow," allowing the audience to fully understand her internal conflict. Timid and unsure of herself when she first lands in Oz, Danielle Wade allows her Dorothy to grow into a true heroine who's greatest strength is her loyalty to her friends.

Mike Jackson as Hickory/Tin Man, Lee MacDougall as Zeke/Lion, and Jamie McKnight as Hunk/Scarecrow are all fun and funny in their assigned roles. Each of these men creates a lovable character that warms our hearts every moment they are on stage. For added glee and subtle nods to one of the film's largest fan followings, the new book material by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams cleverly has the cowardly Lion exclaim, "I am what I am" and "I'm proud to say I'm a friend of Dorothy!"

Likewise, Jay Brazeau's Professor Marvel/The Wizard is enigmatic and fascinating. Jacquelyn Piro Donovan is hysterically manic and quite intimidating as Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West. Her witch's cackle sends shivers down the spine, but her playful jesting breaks the character free of the Margaret Hamilton mold. Robin Evan Willis' Glinda is charismatic and kind, guiding Dorothy with just enough information to allow her to make her own choices and grow all on her own.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
The Company in The Land of Oz. Original Toronto Cast.
Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Scenic and Costume Designs by Robert Jones are simply astonishing. His entirely sepia toned Kansas expertly recreates the film's opening on stage and makes his colorful Oz all the more alluring. Once in Oz, everything is color coded while still being filled with color. The costumes for Munchkinland are blue and white, while vibrant and glowing flowers and lush, verdant greens fill the background. The Emerald City is awash in glimmering and eye-catching greens. The Winkies at The Witch's Castle are dressed in burgundy and black, and the set pieces there are cold metals mixed with blood red woods.

Hugh Vanstone's Lighting Design plays off the Costume and Scenic Designs, using color washes that compliment Robert Jones' work. In each scene, the lights are purposefully atmospheric, heightening the emotions emanating from the stage.

Video/Projection Design by Jon Driscoll, which has been recreated by Daniel Brodie, is wonderfully affective and visually stunning in the production. Standout moments include the formation of the Tornado against the back wall of the performance space in Kansas and the almost three-dimensional witch's head when she curses Dorothy and her friends to dance. Ultimately, the Tornado goes on a little too long, and the transition up the tornado, into space, and then falling down to Oz becomes a bit silly and tedious.

At last night's opening performance in Houston, the only noticeable issue was the fly operations. In the Emerald City, several of the flies would dramatically shift left to right for no apparent reason. Likewise, the circular fly that aligns in the hole for The Wizard's projection was not perfectly in place by the time the projection came on, so its additional movement to reach its ideal positioning was very noticeable.

Whether it was because my expectations were low or because this show is just cute enough to be entirely charming, the national Tour of THE WIZARD OF OZ was everything it should have been. Sitting in the audience, I was entertained from beginning to end, and I left the theatre in high spirits. The new songs, which exasperate me on the 2011 cast album, work well in the context of the show. The talented cast and eye-popping scenery, projections, and costumes do what they're supposed to, guaranteeing every ticket holder an evening of amusement.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

Theatre Under the Stars' presentation of the National Tour of THE WIZARD OF OZ runs in Sarofim Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby Street, Houston, 77002 now through March 16, 2014. Performances are Thursdays, Sundays, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.tuts.com or call (713) 558-TUTS (8887).

Photos courtesy of Theatre Under the Stars.

high res photos

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Jacquelyn Piro Donovan as Miss Gulch. Photo by Tom Donoghue/Donoghue Photography.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Danielle Wade as Dorothy. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Robin Evan Willis as Glinda. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Danielle Wade as Dorothy and Robin Evan Willis as Glinda. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Jacquelyn Piro Donovan as the Wicked Witch of the West. Photo by Tom Donoghue/Donoghue Photography.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Danielle Wade as Dorothy and Jamie McKnight as Scarecrow. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Jamie McKnight as Scarecrow. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Danielle Wade as Dorothy, Mike Jackson as Tin Man and Jamie McKnight as Scarecrow. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Lee MacDougall as Lion. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
The Company in The Land of Oz. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
The Company in The Land of Oz. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Danielle Wade as Dorothy, Jamie McKnight as Scarecrow, Lee MacDougall as Lion, Mike Jackson as Tin Man. Original Toronto Cast. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' THE WIZARD OF OZ is Entirely Charming
Danielle Wade as Dorothy.

high res photos

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