BWW Reviews: Sir Andrew's WIZARD OF OZ Descends on the Pantages
The Wizard of Oz/adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams/music by Harold Arlen/additional music by Andrew Lloyd Webber/lyrics by E.Y. Harburg/additional lyrics by Tim Rice/directed by Jeremy Sams/Pantages Theatre/through October 6
2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the classic film The Wizard of Oz. So it seems apropos in 2013 to mount a touring stage version in preparation. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams have adapted their own somewhat campy book and Sir Andrew has added additional music with new lyrics by Tim Rice. Of the nine new musical compositions there are only two worthy of merit, so thank goodness most of the original score is in tact. It's fun to watch, though... colorful and with a delicious cast under Jeremy Sams skilled direction, now at the Pantages for three weeks only.
I am glad young kids 5 and up will get a chance to see what all the hoopla is about. Their parents have been hooked on Dorothy/Judy Garland for years. The movie is great but there's nothing quite like live stage to bring the experience closer to home. And there are all the delightful characters Tin Man (Mike Jackson), Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight) and Cowardly Lion (Lee MacDougall), Wizard (Cedric Smith), Glinda (Robin Evan Willis) to befriend the lost Dorothy (Danielle Wade). Of course, there's faithful Toto (Nigel) to keep Dorothy company away from Kansas and Auntie Em and Uncle Henry (Charlotte Moore, Larry Mannell), as she faces the nastiness of the Wicked Witch of the West (Jacqueline Piro Donovan).
The Wizard of Oz is a darling children's fairy tale, along the lines of Peter Pan... and every gay man's fantasy. If there weren't such a gay following, Webber and Sams would never have written such absurdly silly lines for the Lion, such as "I Am What I Am", and the Wicked Witch would never hold a tiny doll of Dorothy replete with red slippers and swing it around abusively, which comes off screamingly funny, as she does in Act II to the strains of "Red Shoes Blues" one of the best of the two musical numbers added to the show. The other is "Already Home" before Dorothy says tearfully goodbye to her newfound friends in the next to final scene.
The cast is over the rainbow, to be sure. Wade is simply delectable as Dorothy summoning up every inch of innocence she can muster. Willis is a sparkly beaming Glinda, and Moore and Mannell with just the right amount of nurturing discipline for Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. The actors called upon to play two roles are scene stealers. McKnight as Hunk and Scarecrow is a dancing delight. MacDougall as Zeke and Lion has a field day with his whimpering fears and Jackson, handsome as Hickory and perfectly drole as Tin Man. Donovan is nasty as Miss Gulch and devilishly more so as the Wicked Witch, but to her credit, as much fun as she evokes, I have to hand it to her: she plays the role in a more realistic groundEd Manner than I've witnessed with other actresses who let the loud cackling and a broomstick carry them through it. Smith is a dear as Professor Marvel and equally bumbling and fun as the Wizard. Sams' direction is full and Arelene Philips' choreography is fast moving and bright especially in the numbers with the winged monkeys and the Wicked Witch of the West. And of course, who would not fall in love with Nigel as Toto, one of the best trained and most well-behaved canines on stage anywhere?
Scenic and costume designer Robert Jones works magic, video/projection design by Jon Driscoll skillfully executed in recreating the twister and lighting designer Hugh Vanstone and sound design by Mick Potter nothing short of perfection. When you have seen Wicked as many times as I have, the Emerald City here seems to pale by comparison, but...must not be too jaded now...