Saturday, February 16, 2013

Theatre: Wizard of Oz at Ed Mirvish Theatre

After religiously watching the reality show "Over the Rainbow" which chose the actress to star as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and having my favourite, Danielle Wade be declared the winner, I had high hopes for this musical.  It is hard to pinpoint exactly why, but we found the show to be merely mediocre.  For the most part, the singing was strong enough, the sets and costumes were appropriately drab in Kansas and vibrantly colourful in Oz, and the special effects for the tornado scene and the representation of the "Great Wizard" were well done through the use of video.

What the show seemed to lack is heart.  Perhaps part of the problem was the inevitable comparison to the iconic Judy Garland movie.  Set up against this standard, the characters in the musical seemed to be pale imitations.  In the early scenes when Dorothy was feeling displaced and unloved, singing the song "Nobody Understands Me", Wade came across as petulant as opposed to sympathetic.  When singing her big song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", Danielle's voice faded out occasionally when she turned her head, although she did hold the last note of the song for an impressively long time.

The so-called "munchkins" were the same height or taller than Dorothy, which just felt wrong.  Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote extra songs for the musical to flesh out the characters of the witch and wizard a bit more, and to advance the story line.  Most of them were bland and forgettable, including Professor Marvel singing "Wonders of the World" and the drippingly sappy "Already Home", sung by Glinda, Dorothy and the cast prior to Dorothy clicking her heels to return home.  The only new song of note was the deliciously menacing "Red Shoes Blues" cackled by the Wicked Witch of the West as she ordered her minions to find Dorothy and get back the slippers.  The song "Bring Me the Broomstick" bellowed by the Great Wizard was enjoyable but too short.

Some of the lyrics and spoken lines from the original songs and dialogue of the movie have been updated and modernized.  When Dorothy meets the cowardly lion, he makes passing references to the song title "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and the movie "The Lion in Winter".  One of the wittiest additions to dialogue addresses an issue that I always had with the movie.  When saying goodbye to her friends, Dorothy tells the Scarecrow, "I think I will miss you most of all".  In the musical, the tin man and lion finally take umbrage and call her on this slight against them.  I always thought it was insensitive of her to say that :)

Finally, I was interested in seeing Toto, since "Over the Rainbow" also "cast" the dog.  I didn't realize that it was just a gimmick and there was no intent of putting the canine winner in the musical.   I was wondering about this while watching the reality show, since the dogs were not limited to the cairn terrier breed that played Toto in the movie.  All breeds were allowed and at one point, there were even bull dogs and German shepherds in the running.  Had they really planned to put the winner in the musical, that could potentially have caused major rewrites to the show.  The witch would have to say, "I'll get you my pretty, and your giant dog as well", and Dorothy would have had a heck of a time carrying a huge dog in her arms!  That was amusing to think about.  So it's just as well that the dog(s) who played Toto were appropriately small, professionally trained "actors".

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