Q: How do you re-adorn “The Wizard of Oz?”
A: By giving it the Really Useful/ Andrew Lloyd Webber treatment, naturally.
Q2: Why do you readorn “The Wizard of Oz?”
A2: Why, because you can! Because where all-age theatrical comfort food is concerned, there really is no place like Baum. Or like Lloyd Webber.
So unless you’re Disney and armed with resources north of $200 million and the ability to put it all on screen, why aim higher? Watching the splashy and largely by-the-numbers recreation of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Witches, Winkies, Munchkins and assorted denizens of that land Over the Rainbow, you get the feeling that Andrew Lloyd Webber and director and co-adaptor Jeremy Sams are wishing they could have crafted the live version of the beloved 1939 movie. Indeed, many of the coolest elements of the touring “Wizard of Oz” – in all its yellow brick and emerald finery – are what burst out of Jon Driscoll’s video and projections.
The tornado, for example: a frenetic sojourn into outer space that finds Dorothy trapped in her house and practically nose to nose with the Wicked Witch of the East. Back on the ground, Dorothy, Toto et al traverse a landscape that is big and colorful, drenched with plenty of poppies, gardens or a blasted out castle (for the Wicked Witch’s lair) as the occasion may summon. Robert Jones is this “Oz’s” set and costume designer and – true to the cinematic dictates – he’s built Kansas in sepia and Oz in dayglo rainbow splendor. Dorothy’s encounter with Professor Marvel (played by Cedric Smith who also portrays the Wizard) finds our young heroine watching a magic lantern show burst out of the professor’s all purpose cart to the strains of “Wonders of the World,” one of a handful of new songs co-written by Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
Musically speaking, the second coming of “Evita,” this is not. Singing, I kid you not, “Red Shoes Blues” the Wicked Witch (a sinister but not over- mugging Jacquelyn Piro Donovan) croons of Dorothy “She’s prissy, she’s clueless, and I want her shoeless.”
Of course, we’re probably not expected to listen all that carefully to songs that we don’t already know word for word from the movie. All of the old Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg standards are right there where they should be: “Ding Dong,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “The Merry Old Land of Oz” and the “If I only Had…” suite. “Over the Rainbow,” an 11 o’clock number sung during the show’s second scene, is performed with longing and a lovely firm alto by Danielle Wade, the Canadian actress chosen via a CBC TV reality show audience to win the role.
Whether in trademark blue and white gingham dress or farm togs, Wade makes for a larger, earthier and far less helpless Dorothy than the part is often played. She sings beautifully and isn't big on tears or fears. Indeed, she positively clocks Lee MacDougal’s Cowardly Lion when he menaces little Toto (an obedient terrier named Nigel trained for maximum and obedience and cuteness by William Berloni.)
Jamie McKnight and Mike Jackson lend their considerable charisma to the Scarecrow and Tin Man respectively. McKnight is sweetly befuddled, continuously forgetting ideas that can’t stick in his straw stuffed "brain." MacDougall’s Lion is a diva with a giant arching tail to play with. What better prop could he have.
As faithfully as they’re sticking to the “WoO” blueprint, Lloyd Webber and Sams certainly aren’t above throwing in a contemporary site gag or correcting a script injustice (the Tin Man and Lion justifiably grouse over Dorothy telling the Scarecrow that she’ll miss him most of all.)
By and large, however, this is a faithful recreation of a product that has dazzled generations of kids and kids at heart. It figures to dazzle on for another 70 years. One could do a lot worse.
“The Wizard of Oz” continues 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat., 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun.; through Oct. 6 at 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (800) 982-2787, www.HollywoodPantages.com or tickemaster.com.