Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.
So you’re off to see the Wizard. The Wizard of Oz continues its run at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, starring an all-Canadian cast, directed by Jeremy Sams. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new stage production has been adapted from the beloved MGM movie musical, with additional music by Lloyd Webber and former writing partner Tim Rice.
Just don’t expect the movie.
The performances are adequate. Danielle Wade (chosen by the Canadian viewing public on the CBC’s Over the Rainbow) sings the show’s signature tune, “Over the Rainbow,” with a clear, sweet and unremarkable voice. (My children said she reminded them of a singing Disney princess — an endorsement that may predict a promising career as an ingénue.) There isn’t much for her to sing after that, and regrettably, you don’t get a sense of Dorothy the strong female protagonist that author L. Frank Baum created.
Excepting Charlotte Moore (Auntie Em, who I’d see in just about anything,) the bulk of the ensemble acting is overdone. This Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight) is a dimwit who comes up with good ideas, only to instantly forget them (Really? I remember him as the brains of the outfit who just lacked confidence!) The cowardly Lion (Lee MacDougall) is a flamboyant narcissist. And the Tin Man (Mike Jackson) doesn’t have much to offer beyond oil-and-rust jokes. Happily, the Wicked Witch (Lisa Horner, who you can catch this fall as Mme Thénardier in Les Misérables at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in October) is gloriously green and brings a welcome manic energy to the stage. She’s also memorable for singing a Lloyd Webber and Rice number in the second act that includes the comic and cringe-inducing line “she’s prissy, she’s clueless; I want her shoeless”. Feel like you’re a long way from the Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg classics? You are… Finally, Glinda (Robin Evan Willis) who gets to sing Lloyd Webber and Rice’s new song “Almost Home” at show’s end (and does so beautifully), is otherwise oddly reminiscent of Kristen Wiig’s affected 60s Broadway starlet Mindy Stirling on SNL. Or SCTV’s Lola Heatherington.
In any event, the show’s true “stars” (aside from Toto) are the special effects, especially the cyclone that hurls Dorothy and her house to Munchkinland. Or the pyrotechnics that make the Wizard (an underused Cedric Smith) “great and powerful”…and huge. (Question: why must the witches sport sparkly, pointy hair?) And though it`s pretty amazing how Dorothy`s dress transforms from blue to green before our very eyes in Oz, and Arlene Phillips choreographs a cool Stomp-like number for the liberated Winkies using batons, these are isolated moments you`ll remember, rather than being wowed by the show as a whole. It’s a bit of a shame, since the source material is so powerful, and the original songs are mesmerizing.
So is it worth the 2-plus hour (and $200 – look for the $50/ticket deals) trip down the yellow brick road with your children? It’s certainly family-friendly. Whatever you decide to take it, don’t wait too long. In August, the show closes. Mirvish Productions has announced that the production is hitting the road for real: a US tour with the bulk of this cast has just been announced, and includes shows in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and St Paul, Minnesota before heading back to Canada with a scheduled stop at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa next July.