IMAGE ABOVE: Dorothy (Danielle Wade) befriends the Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight) in The Wizard of Oz stage show now touring North America. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
It’s OK, you can breathe a sigh of relief. The new touring stage version of The Wizard of Oz does not tarnish the reputation of the 1939 film. That’s not to say there aren’t a few potholes along the Yellow Brick Road, but some of the magic still exists in the story of Dorothy Gale, the farm girl from Kansas that found her way into the hearts of millions.
If you were anywhere near a television set from 1959-1991, then you probably fondly remember gathering in front of the tube for the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz, the now-classic 1939 MGM musical-fantasy the rocketed Judy Garland into stardom. The film had been only a modest success at the box-office, but at one point was attracting nearly 40% of the viewing audience when it began beaming into living rooms, and usually rated as one of the most-watched broadcast movies of the year.
The stage show has landed on the Dallas Summer Musicals schedule, and the march to the Emerald City continues at the Music Hall at Fair Park until Mar. 30. It’s a colorful journey, brightly dressed in rainbows of light, shimmering costumes, and larger-than-life sets. If the singing is a bit of a letdown, audiences members can at least marvel in the wonderful multimedia projections that create an effective tornado sequence and really make you believe in flying monkeys.
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has written a few new songs to flush out the emotional undertow of the story, including a dandy number given to the Wicked Witch of the West, Red Shoes Blues, kicking Act Two into overdrive. Of course, we get to hear star Danielle Wade sing Over the Rainbow—once full verse and twice reprised. To be fair, who could really top Garland in one of her signature tunes. Wade hasn’t the pipes to reach the back of the house, much less where bluebirds fly. In the acting department, she fairs better, showing some charm and likeability. But she’s upstaged by any of the male performers, especially Jamie McKnight as the Scarecrow, played to the hilt as a cross between a laid-back surfer dude and a clumsy fool. He gets ample playful support from Mike Jackson as the Tin Man and Lee MacDougal as a very impish Lion.
As for the witches, well, let’s just say Wicked does it better. The Good Witch Glenda makes a grand entrance but is never seen anywhere near a bubble, even though the production designers fly The Wizard in a big giant balloon up to the rafters. But both witches are grounded. And the famous (spoiler alert) death scene for the Wicked Witch is a bit haphazardly choreographed, but at least she does melt out of view.
Of course, it all ends well in the merry old land of Oz, and audiences need not worry that this comfortable stage adaptation is going to crush any childhood memories they have for the beloved classic film.
—SCOT C HART