When I heard that someone had decided to ‘rework’ THE WIZARD OF OZ, I was abhorred. The classic tale of the lost farm girl in a magic land has been around for 75 years, and has still held up. But, it was inevitable that eventually, someone would take a pen or a piano and put their magic touch on this fantastic established work.
Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams, this THE WIZARD OF OZ may have “Over the Rainbow” and “We’re off to see the Wizard”, but you’re not going to see the classic film brought to life on stage. You’re going to see something that isn’t quite right— something that’ll leave you feeling uncomfortable instead of enchanted.
Danielle Wade, who won the role of Dorothy through a reality TV competition, is deserving of the ruby slippers. This girl has a stunning voice. While there are elements of Garland’s Dorothy, Wade makes the part her own and is probably the best actress I have seen as Dorothy. When ‘Over the Rainbow’ finally arrives, time slows, and you are reminded why you came to see this show.
Jamie McKnight is the Scarecrow. He’s likeable and has new material to work with. His singing is great and he’s limber. The only thing is with the new material, Jamie decided to yell a few lines as to appear childish. I didn’t much care for the yelling.
Mike Jackson is one of the best Tin Men I’ve seen. He nails the compassion down pat and is an excellent tap dancer. I never really liked the Tin Man much. But during this show, I was almost always finding myself enjoying his acting out of the three friends.
Lee MacDougall is a fine actor and does the part of the Cowardly Lion justice, but there are issues here that I’ll discuss later.
Jacquelyn Piro Donovan is a funny witch, making us laugh with some good one liners and has a pretty good cackle.
Robin Evan Willis is a fantastic Glinda and has an angelic voice.
The show follows the same basic plot of the classic film. But, some songs are emitted, new ones are added, and all the dialogue is new. You’ll hear the classic, “I’ll get you my pretty” and “There’s no place like home,” but, for the most part, you’re going to see a slightly more spunky Dorothy, an extremely stupid Scarecrow and a very unwelcome characterization of The Lion.
Let’s talk about the new songs first.
The first new song is ‘Nobody Understands Me”, a catchy tune Dorothy sings. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry just don’t understand Toto is in danger, and in my opinion, is the best new song. While not particularly needed, it is catchy and reiterates Dorothy’s feeling of not being heard.
The second new song is ‘Wonders of the World’, sung by Professor Marvel. The song is meant to give The Wizard something to sing and reenforce the idea that there is something better than Kansas. But, the song has the same idea as “Over the Rainbow” and that song is superior. But, perhaps just a fault no person can escape, the scene itself is something you NEED, but it’s never entertaining. I will say the new script brings more humor along with The Wizard, so it’s not as boring as it has been in other productions.
After ‘Wonders’, we hear what we are familiar with… “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, “If I only Had…” “The Merry Land of Oz” and so on. But, when the Wizard demands to be brought the Witch’s broomstick, we have a song… “Bring me the Broomstick.” This is the one addition that absolutely needs to be thrown in the trash. It’s not a fun song and it slows the story down to a halt.
Next, right before Dorothy is captured by the Wicked Witch, The Witch sings ‘Red Shoe Blues’, a drab, lounge-ish tune about how the slippers will make her powers stronger. The song is okay. But it’s nothing special. Some shows have had the Witch sing ‘The Jitterbug’, a song cut from the original film for time, which is a nice fit and frankly, a much better song.
The last song that is added is “Already Home” sung by Glinda, just before Dorothy clicks her heels. This song is actually pretty good. The melody is magical and the lyrics are quite clever.
Home is a place in your heart/ Every Journey takes you back to where you start.
All in all, the trouble here is you just can’t top the original. Music or songs. The original music is classic and no song will ever top ‘Over the Rainbow.’ These new songs can stand on their own, but don’t match the creativity of the work done by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
The Script (Called the Book for stage shows) :
The new book is where the real problem is. Some editions are welcomed:
Dorothy isn’t entirely a ‘damsel in distress’ and has some spunk, the Wizard is really funny, and there is some nice banter between The Witch and Glinda.
You’ll also see that the Scarecrow is extremely stupid here. He can never remember what it is he wants from the Wizard. This was different, but it leads to a lot of comedy from the actor playing the Scarecrow, and he had me laughing.
But, there is one characterization brought on by new lines that is absolutely tasteless. In this production, the Cowardly Lion is gay.
He never directly states it, but ‘jokes’ are said to humor us:
“I’m a proud friend of Dorothy’s”
“The Lion Sleeps tonight”
“I’m a Lion in Winter!”
You could argue there was some “hint” in the original the Lion might in fact have been gay. The word “Sissy” is in his song, and he does get a perm at the Emerald City… Those two things are from the original. But here, the entire character of the Lion is built around his purposed homosexuality, even being told by an Emerald City Guard, “My wife runs the spa! You’ll love it!”
During “If I only Had the Nerve” when the Lion Sings, ‘I’m just a Dandy Lion”, he leans on the Tin Man’s shoulder and the Tin man slowly backs away.
In a time when gays are struggling to earn the right to marry and face constant discrimination, why must we play up the stereotype? Why does the Tin Man have to be “freaked out” by the Lion? And in THE WIZARD OF OZ, no less. Judy Garland was a gay icon, (hence, ‘friend of Dorothy’s) and many gays identify with her journey. The fact that Webber and Sams felt the need to write the Lion this way is beyond me. Sure, maybe it gets a laugh. But it’s deplorable. This is the major problem with the production and I strongly suggest a re-write.
The book also has a completely messed up change. When Dorothy is saying good bye to her three friends, just before she returns home, she says to the scarecrow, “I think I’ll miss you most of all.” It’s a tender moment. But, NOT HERE.
“Hey, we were with you too” says the Tin Man.
“Yeah, Thanks a lot!” pipes the Lion.
The couple sitting in front of me looked at each other at this moment, and the woman made an expression like, “What the hell was that?”
Again, this was an attempt at humor, but it falls flat. It makes the Tin Man and Lion look like assholes, and in THE WIZARD OF OZ, the only person you want to hate is the Wicked Witch.
Speaking of the Witch— In Kansas, when Miss Gulch arrives, you’ll soon realize she doesn’t have a basket on her bike. She threatens Dorothy that she wants the dog destroyed and she’ll “be back in one hour” with the order from the sheriff. But, after she rides off, Dorothy runs away immediately.
The fact that Toto is never torn away from Dorothy’s arms changes the narrative completely. Having Miss Gulch threatening her just isn’t enough. Having Toto placed in the basket and seeing Dorothy cry is the strongest element in Kansas. But here, Toto is never taken from Dorothy. It’s something that needs to be there.
Another thing about Toto, which I’m not sure is written in the book or some kind of animal trainer decision—
Toto is absent from the stage. A LOT. Now, I’ve seen productions with stuffed animals and I’ve seen productions with real animals on a leash. The dog playing Toto was extremely well trained. He’d sit on a stool for a few minutes or he’d run away, right on cue. When he wasn’t sitting or running he was on a leash. But, the strange thing was, Toto was often taken off stage and absent for long periods of time.
In Munchkinland, The Wicked Witch arrives— and little Toto is MIA. This is usually where Dorothy scoops Toto up and hugs him for dear life… and we all know the Witch will get Dorothy and “her little dog too”. Well, Toto magically ran on stage about 15 seconds before the Witch was to threaten to get the little dog.
I feel there was something more here, because, at Emerald City, Dorothy is told “No dogs allowed!” when she tries to go to the Wizard’s throne room. Toto was then taken off stage and absent until midway of the Haunted Forest scene.
If you want to give the animal a break, I have no problem with that. But, when you give the animal a break needs to be decided carefully. Toto has GOT to be with Dorothy during the Munchkinland sequence… he can’t just run on before the Witch is suddenly to mention him. The amount of breaks ‘Toto’ had made it seem like Dorothy didn’t care about her little dog at all. I mean, it just didn’t make sense.
This show has promise. But, in its current state, it comes off like a work-shopped musical. It needs a major overhaul.
Final Verdict: The production looks nice: beautiful sets, costumes and some CGI effects for the Tornado. But, while the production is visually appealing, its book has got some serious diarrhea.