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Review Roundup: Toronto's North American Premiere of THE WIZARD OF OZ

Producers Bill Kenwright, The Really Useful Group, David Mirvish, Troika Entertainment & Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures present the all-Canadian cast of the North American premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's new stage adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ, which opened on December 20 at the Mirvish Theatre.

Danielle Wade of LaSalle, Ontario, stars as Dorothy and Cedric Smith plays the Wizard. Also featured are Lisa Horner as The Wicked Witch, Jamie McKnight as The Scarecrow, Mike Jackson as The Tin Man, Lee MacDougall as The Cowardly Lion, Robin Evan Willis as Glinda the Good Witch and Charlotte Moore as Auntie Em.

The ensemble includes: Larry Mannell as Uncle Henry, Charlotte Moore as Aunt Em, Jordan Bell, Eric Coles, Sam DiGiuseppe, Chelsey Duplak, John Edwards, Kelly Grainger, Sarah Higgins, Julianne Hobby, Jason Huska, Zak Kearns, Ayrin Mackie, Anthony MacPherson, Stewart Adam McKensy, Julia McLellan, Kristen Pottle, Alana Randall, Adam Sergison, Sarah Slywchuk, AnDrew Taylor, Jesse Weafer, Cleopatra Williams, Ryan Wilson and Alyson Workman.

Let's see what the critics had to say:

Robert Cushman of the National Post reports: As Dorothy, Danielle Wade - plucked from the CBC's Over the Rainbow talent show - is a troubled teen rising above her troubles, and does much to keep the show on the Yellow Brick Road (one of the better design elements, incidentally). It isn't her fault the song Over the Rainbow is now so crusted in mythology that it's impossible to accept as part of a story (and the rainbow itself looks very cut-rate)..... Jamie McKnight is a charming Scarecrow; his solo dance is the most delightful thing in the show. Mike Jackson's Tin Man is all right but no more, while Lee MacDougall's Lion is much less.

Richard Ouzounian of The Star states: There's a lot of talent on display at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, where TheWizard of Oz opened on Sunday afternoon, but, alas, it's all largely wasted on this fairly synthetic recreation of the beloved 1939 MGM musical... At the risk of starting an international incident, I have to repeat my long-held conviction that when it comes to musicals, the British like them the way they like their high teas: long and sweet, with the crusts cut off each sandwich and clotted cream on all the pastries.

Stage Door writes: There are other oddities in the staging. The spiralling Yellow Brick Road turns out to be an uphill one-way Yellow Brick treadmill. That's fine when the characters are all going in One Direction, but not fine when they arrive since they have to turn around to go back down the low end of the treadmill to get off. The worst staging error is the scene where Dorothy throws a bucketful of water on the Wicked Witch of the West. It should be clear that she is trying to douse the fire that is burning the Scarecrow and only soaks the Witch by accident. In the extremely awkward way Sams has staged it, Dorothy throws the water directly at the Witch who is standing at a 45º angle from where the Scarecrow is. It is still supposed to be accidental, but it certainly doesn't look that way and the water never reaches the Scarecrow's arm where the flames mysteriously go out.

J. Kelly Nestruck of The Globe and Mail reports: This Wizard of Oz, in this puffed-up production directed by Jeremy Sams, has much to offer in the way of sights and sounds. It has a glittering, art deco Emerald City inspired by the Chrysler building; it has a scary wizard (Cedric Smith of Road to Avonlea fame) whose giant head appears as if through night-vision goggles; and it has a yellow-brick treadmill rather than a road.... If you're looking to figure out where your ticket price went, you'll find it justified in the design - which has its dazzling moments, but, at others, leaves witches hanging in the air like forgotten laundry.... For all the spectacle, however, this Wizard of Oz is an awful lot like the Tin Man - in search of a heart. Wade, who must be our emotional guide though Oz, never quite finds it.

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