The audience so loved the traveling incarnation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of “The Wizard of Oz” that even Toto took a bow on opening night Tuesday. The whole cast got a standing ovation from a crowd that included more than few little girls dressed as Dorothy.
Playing at Ruth Eckerd Hall through Saturday night, this musical re-telling of the beloved 1939 MGM film has all the memorable characters, lines and music that have been a part of our collective pop culture for more than 70 years plus some new songs by Webber and Tim Rice, as well as some surprises.
As with most Webber productions, the sets and special effects are impressive, including the massive tornado that sweeps Dorothy from Kansas, over the rainbow and into the land of Oz. Fans of the film will be pleased with how Webber and company managed to recreate iconic images in the film from the yellow brick road to the flying monkeys.
Canadian song bird Danielle Wade, an acting major at the University of Windsor, won the starring role as Dorothy in a 2012 Canadian television network reality show, “Over the Rainbow.” She’s been filling those ruby red shoes ever since.
Broadway veteran Jacquelyn Piro Donovan is wickedly good as the Wicked Witch of the West while veteran film and television character actor Jay Brazeau (whose credits include “West Wing” and “Supernatural”) makes a marvelously befuddled wizard. And scene stealer Toto is played by a cairn terrier named Nigel who was rescued from an Arkansas Humane Society shelter in 2008.
All the right notes are there from the original MGM score by Harold Arlen with Webber and Rice contributing eight new songs, including “Bring Me the Broomstick,” a number by the Wizard that closes the first act; “Nobody Understands Me,” a lament from Dorothy; and the Wicked Witch’s rousing “Red Shoes Blues.”
A veteran of Canadian theater productions, Robin Evan Willis, is charming and captivating as the Good Witch Glinda. And Dorothy’s three traveling buddies are entertaining with Mike Jackson as a robust, tap dancing Tin Man, Jamie McKnight as a loose-legged, forgetful Scarecrow, and Lee MacDougall as the “sissy” and sassy Lion who slips in some great lines including a “Lion in Winter” reference and a gay slang “friend of Dorothy” joke.
The ensemble cast performs some spirited dance numbers from the munchkins’ exuberance over “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” to the green residents who parade around the Emerald City to “The Merry Old Land of Oz.”
Webber launched his re-imagined stage tribute to “The Wizard of Oz” in 2010 in London with a BBC talent hunt reality show to find the new Dorothy. Danielle Hope, a teenager from near Manchester, beat 9,000 hopefuls to star in the 2010 West End production. Before her win, she was a student and part-time waitress with no professional experience.
This new take on “Oz” treats its history with reverence and yet has some fun with it. For example, in recreating Dorothy’s goodbye scene with her comrades, it’s word for word from the original until Dorothy says she may miss Scarecrow most of all. Then the other two become offended and sound off. And whenever Good Witch Glinda shows up, the Wicked Witch greets her with a sarcastic “Hello, Glinda” like the way Jerry Seinfeld used to his annoying neighbor Newman.