Thursday, December 03, 2015

Wonderful reimagined WIZARD OF OZ at State Theatre

Little did Frank Baum realize in 1900 when he wrote the book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, that he was creating a cottage industry.   “Chachkas” such as snow globes, stuffed Toto dogs and figurines of the characters dot many a household.  Clothing, including red crystal shoes, checkered gingham “Dorothy” dresses and Halloween costumes galore, relate aspects of the tale.  

Quotations from the dialogue have become American language staples including “We aren’t in Kansas anymore,” “Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable,” “If we walk far enough we shall sometime come to someplace,” “True courage is facing danger when you are afraid,” and, of course, “Close your eyes and tap your heels together three times, and think to yourself, there’s no place like home.” 

The success of the first book and the film inspired Baum to write thirteen Oz sequels.

In spite of favorable reviews, the 1939 film of the story was a box office disappointment.  It soon, however, developed a cult following and appears continually on the “best movies list,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which won the Oscar for best song, ranks as one of the favorite tunes of all time.

The gay community so closely identifies with the musical that group meetings, such as on-board cruise ships, are identified as being “friends of Dorothy.” 

Besides the comedy-drama fantasy film, there have been a number of theatre pieces based on the Wizard concept including THE WIZ, WICKED, and THE WIZARD OF OZ, a 2011 musical which used the Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg songs from the film and added some new songs and additional music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.  It is a reimagining of the stage musical that is now on the boards at the State Theatre.

The much repeated story tells the tale of Dorothy, a young orphan farm girl who is whisked out of Kansas by a cyclone and finds herself in the magical land of Oz.  The munchkin residents declare her a good witch because the house in which she travelled landed on and killed one of the bad witches.  Dorothy wants to return home so she goes in search of the  “all powerful” Wizard.  Along the way she encounters a scarecrow who needs a mind, a lion who needs courage and a tin man who desires a heart.  In order to get their needs met, they must destroy the Wicked Witch of the West.  Of course, as in all good fairy tales, good triumphs over evil.

Besides “Over the Rainbow,” the memorable musical score includes “Follow The Yellow Brick Road,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “The Merry Old Land of Oz,” “If We Only Had a Plan,” and “Hail-Hail The Witch is Dead.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have written nine new songs and transitions which help flesh out the story.  “Nobody Understands Me” starts the action by explaining Dorothy’s feeling of being ignored and sets up the concept of how much she later regrets her feelings and wants to come “home” from Oz.  “Wonders of the World” adds universality to the story.  “Bring Me The Broomstick” puts Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin man on the path to destroy the Wicked Witch. “Already Home,” relates Baum’s moral of how the value of family and security are often taken for granted or overlooked.  

Other new songs include, “Red Shoes Blues” and “Farewell to Oz.”

The touring production has all the elements of a top class production.  The acting, the orchestrations, the singing and the staging are all excellent. 

Jon Driscoll’s video/projection designs are enthralling.  The cyclone, the movements of the clouds, the appearance of the Wizard all take on a life of their own.  Hugh Vanstone’s lighting effects and Mick Potter’s sound design help create reality and excitement.  Arlene Phillips’ choreography and Jeremy Sams’ focused and creative direction, make the production special. 

The cast, most of whom are touring production novices with little or no Broadway experience, is outstanding.  Their acting, singing and dancing are too-notch.  This is not a second-rate group of performers.

Sarah Lasko gives her own interpretation to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  No Judy Garland imitation here.  She is charming and convincing as Dorothy.  Morgan Reynolds moves with scarecrow limberness and has a fine singing voice.  Jay McGill has a nice swagger and creates a macho Tin Man.  Aaron Fried is adorable as the cowardly Lion. 

A little girl sitting behind me commented after the Wicked Witch of the West’s threatening of Dorothy scene, “She isn’t very scary.”  Yes, Shani Hadjian could have been a little more menacing. 

Speaking of menacing is the production okay for young children?  A quick survey of about ten pre-tweens resulted in a thumbs up for both the production and the “I wasn’t afraid” factor.  One little girl, dressed as Dorothy, complete with blue gingham dress and red sparkling shoes, squealed, “I loved it.”  She then turned to her father and pleaded, “Can we come back again and again?”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Yes, Dorothy, I’d love to come back again and again to see you and the rest of the cast of THE WIZARD OF OZ.  This was a very special production that showed the value of new electronic media techniques used to their highest level of creativity to help reinvent a well-loved story.  Yes, the show takes us “Over the Rainbow,” and is filled with “Wonders of the World,” as we “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” through “The Merry Old Land of Oz,” and come to appreciate that there is no place like home.  Too bad the show only stays here for a very short run.  Go!  Enjoy!

Tickets for THE WIZARD OF OZ, which runs through December 6, at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to