Theater Review: The Wizard of Oz at Pantages Theater through Oct. 6
September 19, 2013 - By Flavia Potenza
PHOTO BY CYLLA VON TIEDMANN
Dorothy (Danielle Wade) and Toto head over the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz currently playing at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood through Oct. 6.
After all the musical theater productions derivative of Frank L. Baums book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,Wicked, The Wizit is refreshing to see The Wizard of Oz pay tribute to the 1939 movie and Harold Arlens and Yip Harburgs music and lyrics.
In updating the story for the musical stage, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice added some new songs that extended the performance platform for Glinda the Good (Robin Evan Willis), Professor Marvel/the Wizard (Cedric Smith) and the Wicked Witch of the West (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan). Nothing for poor, pathetic, crabby Miss Gulch, however, although she becomes the Wicked Witch and, in that role, has a really fun new song, Red Shoes Blues, that she gets to sing before she melts.
While were all waiting for Dorothy (Danielle Wade) to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Webber and Rice gave her an additional song, Nobody Understands Me, that states the obvious and is not very memorable. Finally, when the first strains of Rainbow started, there was a palpable sense of Yes, this is what we came for. Wade, very simply and heartfelt, put it well over the rainbow and I never, for a second, wanted it to be Judy Garland. It was classic Dorothy.
Its amazing how far theatrical productions have come. Recreating the tornado on stage is a feat of technical magic that creates lowering clouds, lightening flashes and thunder. Rear-projection video on a scrim swirls with vortices that pick up the house with Dorothy in it and Miss Gulch riding the wind on her bicycle. Riveting.
PHOTO BY CYLLA VON TIEDMANN
The full company of The Wizard of Oz takes a bow in this photo from Toronto in January, 2013.
Unhappily, during those raging moments of the tornado, eye-splintering nanoseconds of strobe lights pierced the darkened theater, targeting hundreds of retinas that were riveted wide-eyed on the stage action. Ouch.
Blinking and moving on
Upon Dorothys (and Totos) arrival in Munchkinland and the requisite Toto, I dont think were in Kansas anymore, Glinda flies in, descending from the heavens, glittering from head to 40 feet below her toes until she lands on terra firma in a fairy princess silver gown bedecked with zillions of shimmering crystals (or something equally blingy). What an entrance!
Toto, of course, has to be mentioned. He is played by Nigel, a Cairn terrier rescued in 2008, through the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society by guardian/trainer, William Berloni. Totos understudy is Loki, who was found through Cairn Rescue in 2008 after being rescued from a Missouri puppy mill. He has since played Toto all across North America. Why are there still puppy mills?
The rest of Act One is full of the Arlen/Harburg melodies and lyrics that have endured for 75 years in our language as well as in song: Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead! Follow the Yellow Brick Road, Were Off to See the Wizard, and If I Only Had a Brain/Heart/Nerve as Dorothy meets each of her companions, Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight), Tin Man (Mike Jackson) and Cowardly Lion (Lee MacDougall). And we mustnt forget Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
For those who know the film, its best not to have expectations for these stage performances. No one could ever top Bert Lahrs Cowardly Lion, Ray Bolgers wobbly Scarecrow or Jack Haleys rusty Tin Man. These 21st century actors occasionally jumped out of the 20th century to ad-lib some modern-day asides, such as when Dorothy and Lion fall asleep in the bewitched poppy field. Lion, resisting Scarecrow and Tin Man urging him to keep going, says, The lion sleeps tonight . (wimoweh, wimoweh). Or at the end, when Dorothy says goodbye to her friends telling Scarecrow, Youre my favorite, Lion and Tin Man retort, Thanks a lot. I was waiting for them to add, What are we? Chopped Liver? Thank goodness, they didnt and the line got a laugh.
Act Two in the film doesnt have any songs, beyond the original background music by Herbert Stothart that supports the compelling action of Dorothys capture by the Winkies and subsequent rescue by her friends. Its as if the screenwriters forgot it was a musical. Lloyd Webber and Rice fixed that by giving the Witch her song, Red Shoes Blues, and Glinda another song, Already Home, a sweet lullaby to send Dorothy on her way home.
I was hoping for flying monkeys, but they flew only on the scrim, thousands of digital flying monkeys leaving the castle to do the witchs bidding. I also almost missed Dorothy throwing water on the witch. The action got lost on the stairs but the witchs dying scene was terrific.
This story is such an American icon and this Wizard should be seen by kids of all ages. I wish it were playing longer.
A CHAT WITH GLINDA
PHOTO BY CYLLA VON TIEDMANN
Glinda the Good Witch (Robin Evan Willis) flies onstage in a spectacular sparkle dress.
Prior to opening night, the Messenger had a brief interview with Robin Evan Willis about the production and her role as Glinda. She is a longstanding member of Canadas Shaw Festival and has been with the national tour for almost a year.
The witches have been modernized, given extra songs and were slightly reconceived to give them more depth and dimension to the rivalry between them.
I do fly in onstage. I am the only person who flies in this production. When I first started, it was dauntingthey pull you right up into the lighting gridbut the more you do it the more it becomes second nature. I love that first entrance and hearing the audience go Awwww. Its a fun way to enter the play.
Many little girls, and little boys, too, come to the theatre and this is their first theatrical experience. They often make up the majority of the audience and in Toronto, the kids come dressed as their favorite character.
It is such a joyous show and iconic with all the beautiful and classic songs. Its so fun and interesting to think that the kids might know The Wizard of Oz story. I didnt realize what a huge cultural phenomenon Wizard was until I started doing this play.
There are not a lot of stories with a female heroine showing bravery and perseverance. Thats what I love about the show. Dorothy is the hero.
The Wizard of Oz, runs through October 6, at Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. Performance times differ, check website. Tickets: $25 and up, (800) 982-2787 or www.hollywoodpantages.com. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.