We can’t get enough of The Wizard of Oz. The film sparked by L. Frank Baum’s fable may be the most watched ever. Stage adaptations tap beloved songs and characters, those timeless themes of escaping and going home.
The latest tour lands at the Civic Theatre and twists the classic with new tunes by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber to expand the range of characters. High-tech spectacle shocks the senses.
Our favorite characters look and sound slightly different. It’s as if we’ve had a bump on the head. Everything’s familiar yet wonky. Watch a video montage.
Dorothy (Sarah Lasko) wears overalls on the Kansas farm and later switches to her blue gingham. She’s more aggressive toward her aunt and uncle, made clear in the new song “Nobody Understands Me.” There’s a new thread of anger, and Uncle Henry (Randy Charleville) has regrets about adopting her, which is a notable switch from the sweet old guy in the film.
Three farmhands transform, but take on contemporary personalities. Scarecrow (Morgan Reynolds) talks like a forgetful stoner. More than lions, tigers, and bears, he fears cows and horses, and fire.
Tin Man (Jay McGill) evokes a war veteran itching to fight with an ax instead of a gun, but with movie star posture.
Lion (Aaron Fried) the big chested sissy creates a new persona. Rather than mimic the film, he flinches and whines with high society inflection. His new lines seem plucked from a TV sitcom. There are jokes sprinkled throughout and some come off as insensitive.
Mark Harmon delivers the most classic dialogue, both as Professor Marvel and The Wizard. He gets to play with a magic trailer in the first act, and blast ear drums from behind a big screen in the second.
Rachel Womble as glittery Glinda speaks like a dumb blond but sings with aplomb. Shani Hadjian pays homage to the original Miss Gulch, but isn’t truly villainous as the Wicked Witch of the West. She’s more comedic diva who acknowledges the audience, a dominatrix with brainwashed Winkies to do her dirty work.
The orchestra of 10 sounds terrific, especially in “Red Shoes Blues,” for the green-faced witch. The banjo is a new and appropriate sound for the Kansas farm scenes.
Jay McGill’s Tin Man is a solid tap dancer of intrigue. He leads a soft shoe ensemble, and his jerky limbs are synchronized to squeaky sound effects. Winkies are extra smart in a rhythmic stick ensemble.
Emerald City folks evoke flappers dipped in green dye and dance bouncy Charleston. Rather than hire little people or children, stooped over choreography makes tall Munchkins look shorter, albeit with wiggly backsides.
Monkeys fly, but not on wires. All that magic is done via video projection. Dorothy and her farm house spiral through a tornado-worm hole to Oz. The yellow brick road, poppy field, witches castle, and Emerald City slide off and on. This production has one of the sleekest touring sets around.
As sleek as it is, there are moments when we wish for the less explosive original, if only because of the sweet dog on stage.
The biggest star in The Wizard of Oz has always been Dorothy’s fearless dog Toto. He survives every calamity–dog-napping, poppy poisoning, flying monkeys. Who can forget his daring leap from Miss Gulch’s picnic basket on the back of her bike? Run Toto, Run!
Toto sits and waits and runs on cue through a war zone of sliding sets and bursting special effects in this production. Along with admirable acting and lovely voice with just enough vibrato, Sarah Lasko as Dorothy gets a gold star for handling Nigel, a rescue dog from a long line of Totos trained by William Berloni.
While new material and wild effects aren’t always over the rainbow, Toto is irresistible.