BWW Reviews: WIZARD OF OZ Has the Brain, Nerve and Most of the Heart
The new North American tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE WIZARD OF OZ took the stage at the Ordway in Saint Paul with opening night Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. The production values were high and the singers were solid. The familiar story was there, but the changes and the swift pace left a little of the heart of the show behind.
It's unlikely that anyone needs a refresher on the story of Dorothy Gale and the journey to the Land of Oz so instead of spending time on that, we'll jump right to the production at hand. The technical aspects of this show were top notch. There were effects with videos and lights on the scrims on stage that completely dazzled the audience; especially the tornado scene. Lighting Designer Hugh Vanstone, Video/Projection Designer Jon Driscoll and Video/Projection Recreator Daniel Brodie were the real wizards of Oz. While the storm started to go all Twilight Zone at one point, the effect was about as close to being in the movie version as you could do on stage. Vanstone used flashed of white lights that temporarily blinded the audience a few too many times to enable scene changes but overall, the lighting and scenery were vibrant and perfectly executed.
Dorothy was played by Danielle Wade, who won the role on Canadian reality show, "Over the Rainbow" (more on Wade here: Getting to know Danielle Wade), had strong vocals that soared appropriately on "Rainbow" and her speaking voice was a dead-ringer for Judy Garland's in the original film. The glue that held the show together, she was the Dorothy you'd expect and want to see on stage. Her dog, Toto, may have been the real star of the show, however, as the dog got oohs and aahs the moment it trotted on stage and a standing ovation when well-behaved Nigel (the dog's real name) was brought out for the curtain call.
The witches in this production were both talented and playful actors. Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (Wicked Witch of the West) and Robin Evan Willis (Glinda) were modern interpretations of the characters we've come to expect in a post-WICKED world. Glinda's gown was entrancing with sparkles that made her look more like she rode in on a star than a bubble, while her hairstyle was odd (at least from my vantage point) and she was less sweetly disposed than past interpretations. Without a solo, she was not as powerful a presence in the show.
The Wicked Witch of the West was more modern and exaggerated than past versions, and a lot more sexy with a thigh-high split in her gown revealing green limbs that helped her hoist to the Winkies' shoulders during the newly added song, "Red Shoes Blues." The song title is a bit misleading, as it was not really bluesy at all, but Webber and Lyricist Tim Rice were trying to expose a bit more reason for her desire for those Ruby Slippers with a solo. Donovan's power belting and spunk were fun and captivating. Instead of a pointy witch's hat, her hairstyle was also a severe pyramid on top of her head. Her broom was another cool effect with flashes of fire and light rigged on the bristles.
The actors who played the Wizard, Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow were good but did not particularly bring the heart out in the show with their connections to Dorothy. The fast pace of the production seemed more at fault for that than the actors, however. It seems like the technical aspects that made the show so interesting to watch also took away from the time to build the relationships of the characters.
Other newly added songs were more exposition for the story than truly great songs but they fit in well enough that, if you didn't know better, you'd think they were always there. The cast were all fine singers that made them enjoyable to listen to.
All that aside, there was a house full of families with kids in Dorothy costumes that saw the story they know and love, and that, of course, is where the heart really is. No one seemed a bit disappointed and left the theatre on a cold December night with a song of dreams, rainbows and love of home in their hearts, just as it should be.
THE WIZARD OF OZ plays the Ordway through Dec. 29, 2013. TIckets and information available at www.ordway.org.