What a magical wonderland of joy awaits those lucky Theater Under the Stars patrons who have the good fortune to scoop up the remaining tickets for the current run of the new musical stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz from Andrew Lloyd Webber and the show’s brilliant director, Jeremy Sams. (Musical Director is David Andrews Rogers). We find ourselves in a dream-like world of fantasy that captures the imagination of both children and adults with equal success, and I must confess that success came as a surprise to me. You see, I am of the old-school mentality that says, “If it works don’t fix it.” I had thought that tinkering around with the structure of the 1939 MGM film would only be a disservice to the original while attempting to capitalize on the true masterpiece now celebrating its 75th year as a Hollywood film classic. WRONG! Perhaps I should have known better with Broadway veterans like Mr. Webber, supplying additional fine music, and Tim Rice, providing some clever new lyrics, while at the same time retaining the wonderful original score with the beloved music of Harold Arlen and lyrics of E.Y. Harburg. The end result is a really memorable trip down that Yellow Brick Road.
The opening scene looks almost like a sepia-colored antique postcard of the Kansas farm that young Dorothy calls home. Now who would dare to follow in the ruby slippers of Judy Garland in this role of a lifetime? How about beautiful young Danielle Wade, who not only does an absolutely marvelous job of capturing the sweet innocence of Dorothy, but also brings a lovely voice to both classic songs like “Over the Rainbow,” and the newer ones like, “Nobody Understands Me.” Of course the real magic begins shortly after Dorothy runs away from home and meets the mysterious Professor Marvel (a jovial performance from Jay Brazeau, who later doubles in the role of The Wizard). When Dorothy is swept away in a tornado and suddenly transported to the “merry old land of Oz,” the lighting designs of Hugh Vanstone, and video projection designs of Jon Driscoll & Daniel Brodie sustain the magic that continues throughout this dazzling production with its whirlwinds, snowstorms, flying monkeys, lightning and mysterious 3-D images of everything from wizards to witches. Adding to the success (and delighting this critic) were the beautifully managed sound designs of Mick Potter, who kept volumes at enjoyable levels that always enhanced the action and should become the gold standard for this cavernous 2650-seat Sarofim Hall in Houston’s Hobby Center, where annoying sound distortions have not been uncommon in the past. Bravo!
But of course first Dorothy must meet the Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight), the Tin Man (Mike Jackson), and the Cowardly Lion (Lee MacDougall). One might think these three lads were entering a danger zone in trying to follow in the renowned footsteps of Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr, but not to worry! Their costumes are a pure delight, they each capture an adorable new persona of their own, and all three sing beautifully. As they travel along with Dorothy through lush fields of multi-colored flowers or mysterious and frightening forests, the magical Yellow Brick Road continues to unwind before them as each new scene reveals more visual splendor.
Adding to the fun is Dorothy’s sweet little dog, Toto, played here by the amazingly well trained, Nigel, who never missed a cue. Many children in the audience were happily hugging their own little stuffed Totos, available in the theater gift shop.
The Land of Oz in this production is a wondrous place, sometimes spooky, sometimes splendid, but always full of artistic and eye-popping scenic and costume designs from Robert Jones, who was clearly not afraid to make maximum use of glittering Swarovski Crystal elements as in the case of the stunning dress for Glinda, the Good Witch (Robin Evan Willis). Miss Willis’ voice is stunning as well, as she proves convincingly in singing the lovely and touching new song, “Already Home,” toward the end of the show. But she is not the only witch with a wonderful voice. Jacquelyn Piro Donovan has devilish fun with her role as the Wicked Witch, and her show stopping “Red Shoes Blues” number with the Winkies is a knockout.
It must also be mentioned that complementing the gorgeous scenic designs and costumes are the glorious dance designs from choreographer, Arlene Philips. Whether the little residents of Munchkin Land, the townsfolk of Oz, or the ominous army of Winkies (don’t miss the stick dance), the singing and dancing of this talented ensemble is uniformly wonderful to behold. It is just one more of the countless reasons that this show is an absolute must. Don’t miss it!
THE WIZARD OF OZ continues through March 16th at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances on Fridays and Saturday evenings at 8pm, Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm, and there will be special “Spring Break” performances on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (March 11th – 13th) at 7:30pm. For tickets (starting at just $24) visit the website at www.TUTS.com, or call (713) 558-8887 locally and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).