BWW Reviews: Webber's Touring WIZARD OF OZ Touches Down in L.A.
Right from the get-go, the slick, brand-new touring stage adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ---now on stage at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through October 6---already has oh-so-many obstacles to overcome long before the curtain even rises.
First, of course, there's the infamous inspiration it admirably honors: the groundbreaking, much-beloved 1939 MGM Classic motion picture that pretty much continues to burrow itself into the world's pop culture consciousness for nearly 75 years now (the film itself is a big-screen adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novel). And, secondly, aside from the multiple adaptations, parodies, updates, and re-imagined iterations on every conceivable medium that exists (from film to stage... television... heck, even YouTube), there is also this other Oz-set stage musical you may have heard of that, since its premiere more than a decade ago, has itself become a very popular revisionist take on the story of the Emerald-hued metropolis.
Those are indeed some big Ruby Slippers to fill.
With that in mind, how does one---in this case, theater impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Jeremy Sams---do a new production that not only properly honors its brain-ingrained origins but also makes it satisfying enough to a modern theater audience wanting more than just a live stage-recreation of a classic movie musical?
Well, apparently, with high-tech stage effects, over-the-top, more cartoonish characters and snarky, audience-winking dialogue. Oh, yeah, and a few new songs from Webber and his frequent collaborator, lyricist Tim Rice, too.
The results? Well... while far from being a disappointment, overall, this WIZARD comes off quite energetic and agreeably entertaining. Much of it was even genuinely funny. And, man, how cute was the real-life pooch that played Toto on stage?
But, alas, for all its technical oohs-and-aahs and its army of undeniably talented performers, much of the original film's fantastical innocence and emotional magic gets trampled by this adaptation's runaway twister of easy laughs, eye-popping visuals, and curious staging choices.
For the benefit of those who've been living under a rock, this new THE WIZARD OF OZ---save for an expanded opening sequence in sepia-toned Kansas---still faithfully follows the same timeless tale that almost all of us are familiar with: the dreamy adventures of young farm girl Dorothy Gale (impressive newcomer Danielle Wade) who ends up in the enchanted, mysterious land of Oz.
Like most young ladies (or Disney Princesses-in-training) her age---and living in her environment---she longs for a better life away from the annoyances of teen life in dreary, rural surroundings. Poor girl. No one seems to care enough to listen to her woes... not her busy Auntie Em (Charlotte Moore) or Uncle Henry (Larry Mannell), and not even her best farm-hand pals Hickory, Zeke and Hunk (and, yes, just in case you need to be hit on the head, the show's producers have made sure that the latter three Kansas-based characters have been outfitted with not-so-subtle nods to their future doppelgängers in the land of Oz).
So, naturally, when the wicked (hehe) Miss Gulch (the super fierce, over-the-top Jacquelyn Piro Donovan) threatens to confiscate her dog Toto, rainbow-loving Dorothy decides to runaway from home. Along the way, she runs into the eccentric Professor Marvel (Cedric Smith), who after lots of nostalgia-tripping double-talk convinces the kid to go back home just as a powerful F5-class tornado is ripping through the countryside. As Auntie Em and company seek shelter from the storm, poor Dorothy returns to the Gale house just in time for it to be lifted up off its foundation and fall right-smack-down on the Wicked Witch of the East---now in the bright-colored land of Oz.
The witch's death is celebrated by both the now-liberated Munchkins and Glinda, the Good Witch (the super-perky Robin Evan Willis). Oh, but oops---Dorothy also draws the hatred of the dead witch's sis, Elpha---er, I mean, the Wicked Witch of the West (also, natch, played by Donovan), who vows to snatch her sister's Ruby Slippers that have now magically appeared on Dorothy's feet (hey, if KINKY BOOTS taught us anything...shoes are very important accessories!)