BWW Reviews: Paramount's THE WIZARD OF OZ Does No Honor to Original
There are some classics you just don't mess with. "Casablanca", "Lawrence of Arabia" and yes, "The Wizard of Oz". OK, so there have been a number of sequels or prequels and complete rewrites (such as "The Wiz", which I love) but up to now no one has felt they could make the original better. That is until the ego that is Andrew Lloyd Webber came along and said, "Sure it's good but it needs my special flair." Well Sir Andrew, keep your special flair to yourself as what you have done is to jam in utterly forgettable new songs and horrifying jokes into the show and created a bastardized version of a classic.
I'm not going to insult you, Dear Readers, as to explain the story of "The Wizard of Oz" to you. If you don't know it by now then I'm not exactly certain why you are even on this web site. So let's just get to it. I should start off by saying that I am coming to this from the perspective of A) A huge fan of the original. I grew up with it. We all did in some way. It's a classic for a reason as it's near perfect. So if you're going to try and stage it then make it something worthwhile that does honor to the source. And B) a lover of musical theater. I don't go see musical theater solely for the experience of having people on stage burst into song. I want clever lyrics, rich dialog, interesting characters and a show with heart. So my perspective is basically, "If you're gonna do this one then do it right!" Now having said that, there were plenty of kids and parents who brought the kids around me who were loving this experience. And for those people, I'm sure this could be a fine evening. But for a purist and musical theater lover, the evening was a big slap in the face.
The original songs are mostly all still there. But, as I said, jammed in between them were additional songs written by Webber and Tim Rice which lent nothing to the story, forced and repeated the most hackneyed rhymes and did not fit in with the tone or style of the originals in the slightest (Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg must be spinning in their graves). A perfect example was the Wicked Witch's Act Two opener, "Red Shoe Blues" in which she belted out her disdain for the girl who has her sister's shoes, as she had (I kid you not) a somewhat disturbing ballet orgy with her guards. Um, this is a kids show right? And if the new songs weren't bad enough, Webber and director Jeremy Sams have chosen to mess with the characters and the story. Let's see, the Witch is now a sex kitten, Glinda is a smart ass, Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are kind of jerks who don't really want Dorothy, the Scarecrow is a moron, and the Lion is gay. No really, there were several references and actions that pointed to the Lion being gay. Aside from the obvious mannerisms they've instilled, he says things like, "Well, I guess I am what I am" and "Hey, I'm a friend of Dorothy!" And my personal horrifying moment of the evening when the Lion sang "I'm just a Dandy lion" and snuggled up to the Tin Man with his leg kicked up behind him at which point the Tin Man, frightened, scoots away from the Lion. Excuse me; did we just have an anti-gay joke in "The Wizard of Oz"? I know you're going to say I'm being over-sensitive and maybe I am but it pissed me off.
The cast does what they can with the show but even some of their performances left me wanting. Danielle Wade is lovely as Dorothy and probably had the most heart in the show. Jamie McKnight was working for me at first as he has a beautiful voice but his character began to wear on me. Mike Jackson was very likable as the Tin Man but didn't give much more. Lee McDougall as the Lion was, well gay and ironically had the least amount of character in the piece. And Jacquelyn Piro Donavan as the Wicked Witch just didn't feel right for the character as they kept trying to make her sexy.
All in all I call this one big failure. Even the "spectacle" that Webber is known for seemed half baked as the sets and effects mostly just fizzled or looked as if they may fall apart. And the show as a whole relied entirely too heavily on projections for it's flash which elicited many oohs and ahs from the audience making me wonder if they realized they were just watching a movie.