Review: Orpheus' Ambitious THE WIZARD OF OZ is Often Charming, but Lacks Magic

Impressive sets, and an exuberant cast almost make up for the lagging pace and messy choreography.

By: Jun. 02, 2024
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There is no doubt that Orpheus Musical Theatre put a lot of time, energy, and budget into the sets for its production of The Wizard of Oz (sets designed by Gillean Denny Bernier). Especially impressive is the Wizard’s contraption in the second act; it was of a quality and grandeur that far surpasses anything I would expect to see in a community theatre production. Many set pieces were cleverly designed to be reversible, performing double duty depending on whether the setting was Kansas, the Emerald City, or somewhere in between. Review: Orpheus' Ambitious THE WIZARD OF OZ is Often Charming, but Lacks Magic The stage was complemented by scenery projections; however, the projection screen was too small relative to the size of the stage even though taller set pieces were strategically placed around it. This worked well with the projections that added depth to the stage, such as in Munchkinland – at least from my vantage point – but it was completely ineffective in other scenes, such as the tornado.

The costumes designed by Sandy Goldsmith were, for the most part, true to the 1939 movie, which in turn was based on the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. Dorothy’s (Marlayah McLeod) dress was slightly modernized: her pinafore is now a jumper, and the ruby high-heeled slippers have been traded in for sparkling crimson sneakers. I love these small upgrades, as they move away from stereotypical female garb of the 1930s and 40s. It was confusing to me that Dorothy’s jumper was brown for most of the show, rather than the famous blue and white gingham from the film. Another odd change was the Wicked Witch of the West’s (Thea Nikolic) lack of greenness. Despite the fact that nowhere in Baum’s book does it indicate the colour of the Wicked Witch’s skin, I don’t think I am alone in expecting the witch to have the iconic green skin that has become associated with the Wicked Witch, perhaps especially given the upcoming release of Wicked, the movie based on the musical of the same name that focuses on the Wicked Witch’s complexion.

Review: Orpheus' Ambitious THE WIZARD OF OZ is Often Charming, but Lacks Magic

The choreography (Debbie Miller-Smith) in this show was a little disappointing, especially in the larger scenes, when many actors were on stage. At one point in Munchkinland, there were over twenty actors on stage at once and it just felt chaotic. The show’s progression also dragged in a few places, with the first act in particular feeling much longer than it should have.

McLeod’s portrayal of Dorothy was almost too accurate to the screen version. She was channeling Judy Garland’s mannerisms and accent to a tee, but it sometimes felt forced. It would have been nice to see McLeod try to make the role her own, rather than emulating Garland, especially since she is a talented singer, evidenced by her rendition of the notoriously challenging “Over the Rainbow”, without faltering.

Dorothy’s fellow adventurers, the Scarecrow (Corgand Svendsen), Tinman (Jesse Gervais-Weedmark), and Cowardly Lion (Karsten Skeries) were fun to watch, especially Svendsen, whose arm movements suggested that he truly was made of straw.

The two resident witches of Oz, Glinda (Andréa Black) and the Wicked Witch of the West (Nikolic) both did great jobs with their roles. Black was sweet and motherly, while Nikolic was appropriately condescending and self-serving. The wizard (Barry Daley) captured the complexity of that role, alternating between his dual personae with ease.Review: Orpheus' Ambitious THE WIZARD OF OZ is Often Charming, but Lacks Magic

Arguably, the star of the production was Toto, Dorothy’s troublesome pup. Rather than attempting to hire and train a real dog (or cop-out by using a stuffed toy), Orpheus’s talented prop designer, Hannah Gorham-Smith, created a dog puppet that was handled on stage by Alianne Rozon, in much the same way that Olaf is portrayed in Disney’s Frozen the Musical. This worked superbly well, with Rozon’s facial expressions, yips, and barks bringing the puppet to life endearingly.

Overall, this musical is not Orpheus’ finest production, and it could use a bit more work with regard to pacing and choreography, but the impressive sets, fantastic Toto puppet and the sheer exuberance of the cast make this production worth seeing.

Follow the yellow brick road to Meridian Theatres @ Centrepointe through June 9th to see Orpheus’ production of The Wizard of Oz. Click the link below to learn more and buy tickets.


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