THE WIZARD OF OZ
By Gary Murray
Starring Danielle Wade and Jay Brazeau
Music by Harold Arlen
Lyrics by L.Y. Harburg
Additional Lyrics by Tim Rice
Additional Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Jeremy Sams
The Wizard of Oz is a story that has enchanted generations of children for a very long time. The original L. Frank Baum books have been published for over a century and are still solid sellers. Perhaps the most famous version of the tale is the cinematic version from 1939 starring Judy Garland.
With songs like “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “We’re off to see the Wizard”, this interpretation is the standard bearer, a classic film among classic films. Over the years, the movie version has been staged as a musical event. In this new version that plays at the Music Hall at Fair Park, Broadway legends Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber have re-imagined the work, adding some new songs to the classic tale.
There are very few people on the entire planet who do not know the plot of The Wizard of Oz. A poor orphaned farm girl Dorothy gets trapped in a twister and is transported to a magical Land of Oz. There, she befriends a scarecrow, a tin man and a cowardly lion while making enemies with the Wicked Witch of the West. The four go through travails to get a chance to meet the wizard of Oz, who will grand them their wishes. Dorothy, all through her adventures, just wants to go home. It is a simple story that also contains many layers and interpretations of historical political events.
This version of the play opens with front and rear projection screens that give the stage a black-and-white feel. The entire cast is introduced in a new number “Nobody Understands Me” which also firmly places the magic elements of Oz in a realistic base. It is a very busy opening with many moving parts.
The three stage hands sing the song that the Palace Guards will eventually sing and Zeke’s overalls hang suspiciously like a lion’s tail. It is a cleaver addition for plot but the actual song is very bland.
The first and biggest hit of the entire work is “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and young Danielle Wade as Dorothy wins over the audience in a scant few notes. Her pure, clear voice fills the chambers with warmth. While she does not have that impressive power that Judy Garland delivered in what became a signature song, she more that makes-up in shear stage presence. One believes she is a confused and lost girl. By the end of the song, one almost forgets Miss Garland.
The second change is “Wonders of the World” where Dorothy meets Professor Marvel (Jay Brazeau), a medicine man and traveling salesman who will eventually become our wizard. He shows her via a projection the wonders of the outside world and a single cheesecake photo. Again this lays the groundwork for the wider world Dorothy will see in Oz. Out of all the new songs, this is the most memorable entry.
The change from Kansas to Oz is done with filmed projections. It is an amazing display of technical skills from scenic/costume designer Robert Jones and his crew. There is this overwhelming sense of awe that engulfs the audience while being enwrapped in the spectacle of the modern musical experience. It feels as if one is watching a film on stage with the magical lightening and storm effects. To say it is impressive is almost to use too pale of a word.
Once the play hits Oz, the glowing colors blast off the stage. The costumes are very different from earlier versions and the gown worn by Glenda the Good Witch is a breath-taking display of sparkle and shine. It is almost worth the price of admission just to see the costumes.
The rest of Act One follows the movie musical with an added number at the very end. “Bring Me the Broomstick” is more of a tune of explication than a number one can tap their feet to.
Act II starts with “Red Shoe Blues” a new number that has the most theatrical connotations. Under the masterful voice of the Wicked Witch (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan) the tune comes close to songs that have become beloved parts of Americana. Donovan takes the role of the witch and wrings every bit of fire and brimstone from it. She is just perfect as the villain and uses every moment on stage to show her dominance of the part.
The play follows the path of the screenplay and the eventual destruction of the witch. It is done with moving platforms and tons of fire and smoke. A wonderful bit of stage business it is the climax of the musical.
The play ends with two new songs “Farewell to Oz” and “Already Home” neither of which adds much to the finale. It feels as if the producers want to milk that last little bit out the audience.
This is easily one of the most beautiful musicals that have played in the Metroplex in a very long while. Between the costumes and effects, it feels as if it is of Broadway caliber with a touring company. The problem with this version is that the new songs just don’t measure up to the old ones. Time after time, the new songs feel more like filler than elements to drive the musical.
To sum up, The Wizard of Oz is a perfect family musical that should not be missed, even with its slight flaws. The overall presentation makes up for some of the weak new tunes. It has a classic feel with many modern twists that will delight both the kids and the seasoned theater veterans who have seen it all.