Friday, April 19, 2013

Off to See the Wizard

Back in November 2012, the Canadian public voted on who they wanted for the lead in a new Andrew Lloyd Webber production of The Wizard of Oz.  Over a series of weeks people tuned in to Over the Rainbow on CBC to watch the very talented cast of Canadian young ladies compete for the job.  In the end Danielle Wade came out victorious.  A few weeks ago I went to see the show.

I didn't have super high expectations having gotten a ho hum review from a friend, but I was quite impressed and really enjoyed it.  To begin, Danielle was a fantastic Dorothy, her voice is lovely and she brings the right mix of young girl trying to find her place in the world combined with the courage to handle her time in Oz.  At times I was even reminded of Judy Garland.  Sure Danielle probably has lots more to learn when it comes to acting, but what she knows works well in the role.  Her attempt to walk across the stage during the tornado was very well done, you'd really think she was facing a wall of wind.
Danielle as Dorothy in Kanses

I have high praise for the music aspect as well.  Webber didn't take anything major out that would be expected by fans of the movie (well ok "If I Were King of the Forest" could be considered major by some, but it was never my favourite song so I really didn't miss it), and the additional music and songs fit the style as well.  The biggest new song would be the finale in Oz "Already Home", however I particularly liked what they did with Dorothy's meeting of Professor Marvel.

Cedric Smith as Prof. Marvel
His song, "Wonders of the World" was witty and who knew Cedric Smith (known to me from his years as Alec King on Road to Avonlea) could sing?  The small orchestra in the pit couldn't duplicate the lushness of the original MGM orchestrations but they held their own giving a larger sound than expected for only 12 players.  Their names were listed in the program and it was cool to see the French Horn player was Erin Cooper-Gay, who often can be seen as an extra musician in the horn row of the Toronto Symphony.

The opening scenes in Kansas could have been slow and dull, but the under current of "Nobody Understands Me" where Dorothy laments her life and Toto's fate if Miss Gulch gets him, the farm hands try to get a generator (that looks like Maurice's invention from Beauty and the Beast), started, and Uncle Henry and Aunt Em worry about the chicks, kept things moving along at a good pace.  The use of technology for the tornado was impressive.  When the projected image of the funnel cloud filled the stage and items were shown swirling along for the ride then "hitting" the stage, they bounced back up!  Someone thought to incorporate some physics!  It added a certain degree of realism rather than having the items just disappear above or below the projector sight lines.

The farm hands Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke who would become the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion in
Oz had hints in their Kansas lines of what was to come.  They were vague enough to not give anything away for people who weren't familiar with the movie, but were a smooth way of slipping in that little something extra for people who knew.

With the Wizard
As for the vocal talents of Mike Jackson (Tin Man), Jamie McKnight (Scarecrow), and Lee MacDougall (Lion), they were impressive in their "If I Only Had a Brain/Heart/Nerve" solos, and had decent mannerisms for their characters, although I doubt anyone can reproduce the rubber-ness of Ray Bolger.  I particularly liked that they gave the Tin Man tap shoes.

Ensemble in Emerald City
Another area where thought was evident was the costuming.  By dressing the ensemble of Munchkins in high waisted, puffy dresses or pants with flat shoes it shortened their appearance, especially once Dorothy was in heels and beside the statuesque Robin Evan Willis as Glinda the good witch.  Switching tactics for Emerald City, the same people appeared to grow instantly by giving the ladies heels and lower waisted dresses and jackets.

There was the required flying by the monkeys and witches with mostly hidden cables.  Dorothy got in on the action with her capture by said monkeys, and the harnessing was smooth and hidden with enough other action on the stage that attention was not focused on her awaiting the take-off.

The set for the Wicked Witch of the West's castle wasn't my favourite.  The door to Oz was more
Wicked Witch
imposing than the scaffolding like tower Dorothy was locked in.  Lisa Horner did a fine job with her  additional solo song "Red Shoe Blues".

There will forever be comparisons between the MGM movie and any recreations of The Wizard of Oz story, but I think this one works well with the combination of old and new brought to life by a great Canadian cast!

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