Dallas — It seems like most musicals these days are movie adaptations. While some should probably be left to the silver screen, others are born to be onstage. Such as The Wizard of Oz, based on the 1939 classic film, presented by Dallas Summer Musicals at the Music Hall at Fair Park. But with the story firmly entrenched in American culture and the numerous stage and film adaptations, why would we possibly need to wring more variations from L. Frank Baum’s classic story?
With the book adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber (who also provides new music with added lyrics by Tim Rice) and director Jeremy Sams, the musical brushes a coat of nostalgia across the audience and provides bit of an update to the classic tale. All of the original songs by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg still appear, and Webber’s new music simply adds a melodic extension to scenes that could use further development. Fortunately, the story stays exactly the same, and Webber and Sams thankfully resist adding random subplots.
Dorothy Gale (Danielle Wade) is unhappy with her life on a Kansas farm (marked by the new song “Nobody Understands Me”), so she runs away from home where she encounters a well-traveled professor (Jay Brazeau). A tornado rips through the plain, and transport’s Dorothy’s shelter to the land of Oz. She immediately makes friends and enemies, but all she wants to do is go home. The yellow brick road takes her to the Emerald City to see the Wizard (Brazeau), and along the way she’s joined by the Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight), the Tin Man (Mike Jackson), and the Lion (Lee MacDougall).
The journey takes twists and turns until she confronts her newfound nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West (Jacquelyn Prio Donovan), whom she defeats with a simple bucket of water. Three clicks of the heels bring her back to Kansas, where her adventure seems like a dream. Or is it?
Visually, the designers do a marvelous job of recreating the coloring of the movie. All of the farm scenes are bathed in a sepia tone, from the sets to the costumes to the lighting. Even Dorothy’s signature gingham dress has more of a dull eggplant hue before her trip. In the Land of Oz, the sharp colors give the setting a magical feel compared to the relative dullness of Kansas.
Video projections by Jon Driscoll and Daniel Brodie provide a rather realistic-looking tornado in Kansas, and the transitions between scenes in Oz take on a fantasy-like quality.
The biggest news of this revival, however, is obviously the additional music. Most everything appears to fit well, although the Wizard’s forceful Act I closer “Bring Me the Broomstick” is a bit wearing. In the witch’s castle, the instrumental “Bacchanalia” delivers an interesting sound. The new scene, however, adds some dancing (choreographed by Arlene Philips), including a somewhat sensual dance for the witch, but it seems out of place and almost unnecessary. “Already Home” closes out the last scene in Oz, with a solo from Glinda and a chorus with the ensemble. It’s nice, but nothing spectacular.
Even though almost everything about the original film appears on the stage, the production has an updated feel to it. The cast delivers the iconic lines much differently, and body language, gestures, and blocking provide some subtly humorous moments that match modern day mannerisms. Individual performances really drive this aspect.
Wade snagged the lead role of Dorothy through the Canadian reality television show Over the Rainbow, and our neighbors to the north sure know how to pick a winner. With her innocent and charming looks, winsome personality, and irresistible smile, Wade is one of the most accessible and likeable performers seen on stage these days.
She’s not trying to be Judy Garland. She makes the character her own while still maintaining the engaging, girl-next-door quality. Her shining rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sublimely captures the delicate longing of the scene. The audience burst into applause before she even got close to finishing the last note.
The one who steals the show, however, is Nigel…as Toto. Rescued from an animal shelter by trainer William Berloni, the performing pup astounds with his amazing obedience and calm, happy-go-lucky demeanor. He simply sits still, seemingly cool as a cucumber, while the music and action whirl around him. During Wade’s iconic solo, it’s difficult to give her one’s complete attention with the loveable Cairn on stage.
The show is bursting with other notable performances. A commanding Brazeau brilliantly plays the distinguished, eccentric professor but still has a menacing presence for the head of the Wizard. Robin Evan Willis adds a country charm to Glinda, and Donovan marvelously portrays a threatening (and and sometimes rather frightening) witch. Dorothy’s three companions (Jackson, MacDougall, and McKnight) each exude an easygoing, folksy charm unique to their characters.
Overall, the evening proves to be a wondrously nostalgic escape.