Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Orange County

Ever since I heard Andrew Lloyd Webber was bringing a new adaptation of the 1939 MGM production to stage I was ecstatic.  While over the past couple years there has been quite a revival of the tale and additions to story surrounding Oz, there is nothing that beats the screenplay of the classic.  THE WIZARD OF OZ will be sure to capture the whimsy and magic that so many generations have fallen in love with in the past while also providing even more music, stage effects and memorable moments to its fans and a new generation!

Today in the mainstream we have recently seen the addition of WICKED, DISNEY’S OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL , and even a re-release of THE WIZARD OF OZ in IMAX and 3D!  With all this new interest in this world I was concerned that I would find the stage production possibly old and tired. Thankfully, there is nothing to worry about.  This award-winning creative team from London and Toronto had done a magnificent job bringing new life and uniqueness to the production without taking anything away from all that you loved from the MGM film.

I am not just speaking about retaining the most recognizable songs in the world, or keeping the same story line, or even making sure the characters kept some of their famous lines aka “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!”  This production encompasses the feeling we all got while watching this mesmerizing story as kids or even as an adult. The colors are brilliant, the costumes retain the same look and feel although adjusted slightly from stage, the transition from Kansas to Oz is absolutely magical, the music remains heartfelt and warm with new songs containing the same style, and the dog is even there to accompany Dorothy along the yellow brick road.

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”

The show begins in Kansas with Auntie Em and Uncle Henry on their farm with everything in a warm sepia-tone.  I was so excited to see how they were to pull this off, and I was pleasantly surprised how well every transition and effect was executed.  I was quickly captured and ready for the ride. Immersed in the colorless world, I remembered I needed to take in everything.

Scenic and costume designer ROBERT JONES has created a masterpiece!  Clever orientation of sets and every character carefully placed is dull tones of tans and brown along with a projected background of the farm side and clouds had me quickly realizing the transition to the vibrant world of Oz will surely be special.  I looked around and realized there were just black curtains surrounding the stage. It had me slightly worried it would be like this throughout, but I was only to later realize this helped keep the Kansas scene minimal and almost feel like I was watching the film once again in perhaps an old tube TV.

The storm soon arrives in all its glory with many great lighting effects along with a lot of scrim use, but there is so much, and I don’t want to ruin it.  I’ll say that you will not be dissatisfied.  This production relies heavily on some computer generated effects projected on screen, and while at first I was concerned that they weren’t doing anything on stage during these moments, I realized this is needed for the huge costume changes and giant transformation from Kansas to over the rainbow.

We are treated with a new song “Nobody Understands Me” as the musical begins to quickly show Dorothy’s displaces at home and then quickly welcomed with “Over The Rainbow”.  I was concerned some musical variations were going to be taken, but fortunately the originals all retain mostly the same arrangements.  The music begins, the words are sung, and the chills ran down my arms.  I quickly sink into my chair and enjoy.

Dorothy sounds like, well, Dorothy! DANIELLE WADE captured the hearts of Canada as she won the lead on CBC’s Over the Raindbow and plays a perfect Judy Garland.  She gets to really belt out an extraordinary long note at the finish of the first “Over The Rainbow” having the audience roar with applause.  It was this moment that had me thrilled that I was going to see THE WIZARD OF OZ how we all remember it.

Sure there are going to be some minor differences being it is a stage production.  With the addition of several new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, you may also see a few creative choices that may catch you a little off-guard, but are clearly there for good reason.

The ensemble cast is a perfect size and must play the part of the Munchkins, people of the Emerald City and the Winkies (castle guards).  As we are greeted by the Munchkins, their beloved “Arrival In Munchkinland” has several comical changes that are needed being they aren’t actually using little people or kids.  Their performance of “The Merry Old Land of Oz” is superb and showy with glamour of glittery green costumes, but sadly, no horse of a different color, though mentioned.

THE WIZARD OF OZ still follows the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Dorothy and her little dog Toto, as they journey through the magical Land of Oz to meet the Wizard and obtain a brain, a heart, the nerve, and a way home all while trying to avoid the Wicked Witch of the West and her winged monkeys.  The ruby slippers are now even more desirable to the witch and a song even explains.

How about these well-known characters? Well, they all nail it on the head.  The Scarecrow is played by JAMIE McKNIGHT (THE PRODUCERS, HAIR, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN) and has impeccable timing playing the character with a little more humor and brainlessness.  The Tin Man is played by MIKE JACKSON (CHICAGO, CONTACT, and many other productions) and while may have the least amount of laughs, plays it more true to as originally written.  The Lion is wittily played by LEE MacDOUGALL (MAMMA MIA!, DAMN YANKEES) who really plays it up and is outrageously funny.  All three fit the part and no one is over-the-top, which would be incredibly easy with these types of roles.  There was a very happy balance here.

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This leads me to The Wicked Witch of the West played by JACQUELYN PIRO DONOVAN (LES MISERABLES, MISS SAIGON) who is given a little more comedic leeway, and pulls it off. She keeps her evilness and we aren’t suppressed to hearing an evil cackle 50 times.  While at times the humor seemed a bit much, but it never gets carried away, thankfully. Here she gets her own song, something that Andrew Lloyd Webber felt missing in the film. This gives us a chance to get to know her slightly more without having to delve deep into her backstory in which WICKED is left for that.

There is some great interaction between the Wicked Witch and The Good Witch, Glinda.  She’s played by the lovely ROBIN EVAN WILLIS and is true a delight.  The two play at each other more than the film allowed and is definitely a welcomed addition.

By all means, I cannot leave out the dog! Yes, Toto is played by a living, breathing dog (NIGEL) that runs across stage many times even without a leash leaving the audience often gushing in “awe’s”.  This was a great decision and I’m glad they stuck to it.

Throughout the show there are some incredible costumes, even for the main characters that somehow are quickly changed when needed.  These costumes also need much makeup to be applied and I must commend them on not cutting corners here.  This was very cool to see live along with the beautiful transitions.

As mentioned earlier, there are several scene transitions that rely heavily on some projections, but these are done very well and enhance the show while allowing for some needs backstage and onstage.  There are many scrims, backdrops, and total scene changes that are seriously quite impressive.  The audience truly gets to travel with the characters through the land.

The first act really shines in this show, but part of this is partly due to me never being a big fan of the latter half of the film.  I was delighted throughout however and cannot recommend this show enough.  It is a perfect show for all ages and I won’t just be leaving children mesmerized.  THE WIZARD OF OZ is only playing until February 23rd, so get your witches hat and broom ready and fly on down to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts before the show lands on another stage.

The show has brought new life to something I already loved and I hope others will get to see that spark once again as if it was the first time they saw the Land of Oz come to life.

THE WIZARD OF OZ is now playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Segerstrom Hall

February 11th – 23rd, 2014
Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.

The 2 p.m. performance on Saturday, February 22nd will include audio description, open captioning and sign-language interpretation.

Tickets start at $29

For more information visit scfta.org

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