Review: 'The Wizard of Oz' at the Fabulous Fox is a Flurry of Fun

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

It’s hard to know what to expect when an iconic film is transformed into a stage musical. Will they stay true to the film? Will they not? How will they stage this part or that, and what’s this business with new songs? Such was the case with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Wizard of Oz,” which opened Tuesday night at the Fox Theatre.

Dorothy in the storm. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Dorothy in the storm.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Worse, original reviews of the show seemed lukewarm and non-committal. That’s partly why the show was way more than a pleasant surprise. With a magic that matches the original film and charming performances by the cast—especially Danielle Wade as Dorothy—the show is a breezy, fascinating and delightful two-plus hour romp down the yellow brick road of entertainment.

Dorothy and the Scarecrow Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Dorothy and the Scarecrow
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

There’s some new music and songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, including the opening number, “Nobody Understands Me,” an involved number that plays like a mini-opera sung by Dorothy and the cast on her Kansas farm. Near the end of the show, Glinda (the good witch) and Dorothy sing “Already Home,” a quintessential Webber and Rice song. Rice even manages to insert some extra lyrics into both “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “If I Only Had a Brain” that were perfectly at home. With accompaniment by the live orchestra, the original music with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg set to the great Harold Arlen’s music, along with the new additions, was stellar.

Emerald City Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Emerald City
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Danielle Wade has everything necessary to handle the iconic role of Dorothy; the youthful exuberance, the determination, the charm, and pipes of gold. When she sings “Over the Rainbow,” just the second song into the show, the audience is hooked. Interestingly, Wade originated the role in 2010 when she won the Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s Over the Rainbow talent show, and she’s been playing the role since. Dorothy’s compatriots—the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion—are played by Jamie McKnight, Mike Jackson and Lee MacDougal respectively, all of whom are pretty good, with McKnight’s Scarecrow well played (though perhaps not as loosey goosey as hoped) and Jackson’s Tin Man just fine. MacDougal’s lion could have been much bigger, though he was entertaining enough.

The Wizard and cast. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

The Wizard and cast.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Other notable performances were Jacquelyn Piro Donovan as Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West, who is a force to be reckoned with, along with a delightful performance by Robin Evan Willis as Glinda. Jay Brazeau as Professor Marvel/The Wizard also does a fine job, as do Larry Herbert and Chelsey Duplak as Uncle Henry and Auntie Em.

The real trooper of the show however, and one of the most generous actors on stage in the history of theater, was Nigel the dog as Toto. This dog was fantastic, hit all his cues and didn’t upstage the actors (and let’s face it, if you put a dog on the stage the audience is going to look at it.) But Nigel played it cool and got into the spirit of things during “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” raising and alternating looking at Dorothy singing with gazing out over the audience, dreamy eyed. And kudos to Wade for carting the little beast around in her arms for nearly the entire show. It must be tiring.

Technically, the show was exciting when it needed to be, using a variety of video projection techniques to recreate the storm and, later, the attack of the flying monkeys. The elaborate sets were eye candy, but the interpretation of the Emerald City was a bit odd, with the citizens dressed in identical emerald-green attire like characters out of a hallucinatory Adventures of Roger Rabbit. You can’t accuse anyone involved in this production of being afraid of bold colors.

If there’s one criticism, the show seemed to have a lack of urgency or importance—that certain something that the movie had ad infinitum. All in all though, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Wizard of Oz” is a winner. An 11-year-old boy in my group, seeing his first professional theater performance, was mesmerized, and the adults were as well.

“The Wizard of Oz” continues at the Fox Theater through May 18. For tickets and information, visit the Fox Theater website.

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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