The Wizard of Oz
(out of 4)
There’s a lot of talent on display at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, where TheWizard of Oz opened on Sunday afternoon, but, alas, it’s all largely wasted on this fairly synthetic recreation of the beloved 1939 MGM musical.
It’s easy to understand Andrew Lloyd Webber’s desire to turn the show into a full-fledged stage musical; licences to print money don’t come much plainer than this. And although director Jeremy Sams has approached the project with careful thought, it really doesn’t work at all.
Well, at least not for a Canadian audience, not in 2013.
At the risk of starting an international incident, I have to repeat my long-held conviction that when it comes to musicals, the British like them the way they like their high teas: long and sweet, with the crusts cut off each sandwich and clotted cream on all the pastries.
The best adjective to describe a lot of the proceedings is “twee” and from the moment where the twister carries us to Oz (courtesy of projections that a friend rightly pegged as reminiscent of a 1980s episode of DoctorWho) and then deposits us into a world of Munchkins dressed like Mennonites with a penchant for Wedgwood blue, who dance as though they suffered from osteoporosis, it’s hard to feel much empathy for anyone or anything.
The show’s physical production by Robert Jones wants to look expensive, but it’s like purchasing designer knock-offs: Look quickly and it works, but stare at it for a while and you see the real value.
Must all the flying effects be of the ultra-simple up and down variety? Must every scene be monochromatically colour-coded as if no one in the audience were very bright? Why must the Wicked Witch’s minions all dress and dance as though it were “Cossack Night” at a leather bar in Moscow? And, ultimately, why must all of Arlene Phillips’s choreography look like she still thought she was doing Saturday Night Fever?
For every inspired touch, like making sure everything in Oz is prepared for in Kansas, there’s twice the number of gaffes, like giving the lion a too-campy sense of humour, or losing the whole notion of the Wizard as a timid little man who gives himself grand airs.
And then there’s the songs that Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have added to the piece. Not only do they bear no stylistic resemblance to the original ones by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, but the qualitative differences are absolutely embarrassing.
So many good people, largely misused.
Cedric Smith has enormous panache, but the role of the Wizard gives him little chance to play for depth or warmth or anything else. Lisa Horner is reliably theatrical as the Wicked Witch of the West, but has to deliver a really awful new song to start Act II.
The ensemble is full of attractive and talented young people who don’t get to show off either of those attributes properly and great talents such as Charlotte Moore and Larry Mannell get truncated scenes or have to appear in projection screens like bad Skype conversations.
Jamie McKnight uses his own natural sweetness to make The Scarecrow really work well, but the talented Mike Jackson isn’t asked to do much as The Tinman; Lee MacDougall is forced by the script to be a one-dimensional lion, and the material forces Robin Evan Willis to play Glinda as though she were opening a suburban shopping mall.
Danielle Wade is a sweet and natural Dorothy, singing with emotion, acting with honesty and giving it all she’s got. The show’s failure isn’t hers, by any means.