Starring Danielle Wade, Cedric Smith. Music by Harold Arlen. Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg. Directed by Jeremy Sams. Ed Mirvish Theatre, to March 31.
The Wicked Witch of the West (Lisa Horner) belts out a jazzy number called “Red Shoes Blues,” the brain-bereft Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight) suffers from short-term memory loss, and the Cowardly Lion (Lee MacDougall) has finally emerged from the closet, proudly proclaiming himself “a friend of Dorothy.” Those are a few of the amusing changes wrought by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams in their dazzling theatrical version of the 1939 cinematic classic The Wizard of Oz.
Mostly, however, the U.K.–born show—making its Canadian debut with an all-Canadian cast at the Ed Mirvish Theatre—is a slavishly faithful replica of the MGM musical. That’s both good and bad. It’s great to hear first-rate live renditions of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s wonderful songs and to see how cleverly Robert Jones and his design team have translated the film’s Technicolor spectacle for the stage. Especially impressive is the work of video/projection designer Jon Driscoll, who whips up one awesome tornado to send Dorothy (Danielle Wade) flying over the rainbow to the merry old land of Oz, and gives the Wizard (Cedric Smith) a giant, disembodied head so fierce that, like MacDougall’s “dandy” Lion, you may faint dead away when you see it.
The problem is that copying the movie invites inevitable comparisons. Wade, the winner of CBC-TV’s tie-in audition show, is a credible Judy Garland clone, but while she can melt a wicked witch, she doesn’t melt your heart. The other cast members, though capable, just can’t measure up to the film’s immortal comic performances. The irony is that, while adding more to the Wiz, Lloyd Webber’s production comes up short.