The last time I saw The Wizard of Oz on stage was 25+ years ago. It was a high school production in my hometown, starring young thespians in the familiar roles we all grew up with. Of course I've seen the 1939 MGM screenplay countless times, and also read the Frank Oz book as a child. But I passed on seeing The Wizard of Oz: An IMAX 3D Experience that screened recently in Seattle. Not so the touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's new stage adaptation that opened last night at Seattle's Paramount Theatre. I wouldn't miss it.
It's only fitting that Seattle, aka The Emerald City, is one of the US cities on current tour of The Wizard of Oz. The musical, which originated in London, made its North American premiere in Toronto last year. The American tour stars Danielle Wade as Dorothy, who was selected by the Canadian public through CBC TV's reality show Over the Rainbow. The new production is directed by Jeremy Sams and contains all the familiar songs from the Oscar-winning movie score, plus new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
This is a dazzling production, with a few little "huh's?" along the way. Although Dorothy is the star of the show, played to sweet perfection by Danielle Wade, Toto stole my heart. Treated to dog biscuits throughout the production, Toto happily munched his was through the two acts without blowing a line or barking at the wrong moment. Played by Nigel, who was rescued by guardian/trainer William Berloni five years ago, the darling dog has also appeared as Toto in The Wiz opposite Ashanti on Broadway.
Other standouts include the enchanting Cedric Smith as Professor Marvel and The Wizard; Jacquelyn Piro Donovan as The Wicked Witch of the West; and the adorable Scarecrow, played by Jamie McKnight, who toured as one of The Canadian Tenors in 2008. Attending opening night with me was my good friend Jen, who coincidentally played the part of Scarecrow in her high school production in the late 1970s. Jen also gave Scarecrow a thumbs up, but we both went thumbs down for the cartoonish big-butt costume worn by the Lion.
The sets are stunning, along with the special effects -- especially the tornado scene when Dorothy and Toto are swept away from their Kansas farmhouse to the Land of Oz (here's a clip from the original movie). Eye-candy costumes, intense make-up, colorful lighting and lively orchestral music combine to make The Wizard of Oz a visual and auditory feast. But a few quibbles. The new songs are a bit jarring, especially the sappy Already Home. It felt a bit like a Michael Buble ballad, and my first reaction was to laugh as the ensemble broke into song. The added Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes don't quite fit, nor does the final scene with Dorothy and her red shoes. I'm still wondering what that was all about. But don't let that keep you away. This is a delightful adventure along the Yellow Brick Road and a wonderful evening of musical theater.
The Wizard of Oz - Paramount Theatre
Thursday, October 10 - 7:30 PM
Friday, October 11 - 8:00 PM
Saturday, October 12 - 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM
Sunday, October 13 - 1:00 PM (ASL/AVIA Interpreted) and 6:30 PM (Open Caption)
Tickets start at $25 and are available online at stgpresents.org or 877.784.4849