Broward Center through January 19th.
It’s a testament to a really good story, and to the subsequent telling of that story, that the “Wizard of Oz” can still make a body feel good. Whether it’s the original book penned in 1900, the iconic 1939 movie, the super-soulful adaption “The Wiz” or the delightful other-side-of-the-story “Wicked”... the story endures. And that core concept is still there in the current incarnation at the Broward Center, but the new additions leave us a bit short of the rainbow.
The new stage version of “The Wizard of Oz” was adapted from the movie by Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Jeremy Sams. Six new tunes from Webber and long time collaborator Tim Rice were thrown in as add-ons to the great Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg score - and quite honestly, didn’t add much.
More front and center this time around are the witches (a tip of their pointy hat to the strength of “Wicked”?) and maybe what future audiences will most remember about this updated trip down the yellow brick road. Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (Wicked Witch) and Robin Evan Willis (The Good Witch) are solid in their roles, but the question remains: why. The expansion of the witch’s roles may indeed be the little spike that keeps the story fresh, but it seems to be more of a distraction from Dorothy than an addition – and really isn’t “The Wizard of Oz” all bout that little girl in the red shoes?
Danielle Wade (Dorothy) smartly does not try to emulate the incomparable role created by Judy Garland and for the most part she makes Dorothy her own and sounds good doing it. Her buds, Jamie McKnight (Scarecrow), Mike Jackson (Tin Man) and Lee MacDougall (Cowardly Lion) are good at what they do - paticularly in handling the additional, sometimes banal, dialogue and jokes ( "...the lion sleeps tonight...", "...the lion in winter...". Really? That's fresh?). Jay Brazeau (The Wizard), Larry Mannell (Uncle Henry), Chelsey Duplak (Auntie Em) and Nigel (Toto) round out the cast.
The classics "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", "If I Only Had A Brain" (and its variations) were standouts by Wade and McKnight, Jackson and MacDougall. The only new song that had any traction was Piro-Donovan's big voiced rendition of"Red Shoes Blues" opening the 2nd Act. The choreography ran the gamut from the Charleston to Russian kick dances to Vaudevillian stick routines. Again, why?
They say everything old becomes new again at some time or other with a fresh coat of paint. This paint job will be heresy to some – and they have a good argument. The fleshing out of the witch’s roles is a logical (and wise) business step to freshening the long told story, especially with the popularity of WICKED”. I kept wondering though, why they didn’t just add a couple of new elements to update the script and music, then let the advancements in stage technology take over from there. Those CGI moments on stage last night we great additions and really gave a sense of movement that you can usually only get on TV or in movies.
This may as good a time as any to see a new twist on a classic. Overall the story in “The Wizard of Oz” is still a delight – and there were lots of parents with kids checking it out because of that. I’m all for updating and refining classic tales to attract newer, younger audiences to live theatre and while this particular adaptation may not be the best, it certainly is a good place to start. Only time will tell if the new generations will like this way of telling the story.
“The Wizard of Oz” runs through January 19th at the Broward Center for The Performing Arts. Tickets are available at the Box office or at www.browardcenter.org online.