“The Wizard of Oz” – ASU Gammage

This review aired on KBAQ February 6, 2014


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

It’s challenging if not impossible to better a screen classic like “The Wizard of Oz” on stage without the added glories of film magic.  In 2011, Andrew Lloyd Webber produced a new stage version of “The Wizard of Oz” in London.  That staging arrived in 2012 in  Canada and it is now touring the United States in a production that opened Tuesday at ASU Gammage.  It’s a likeable staging that works just fine.

On opening night, there were lots of young kids in the audience and this classy production provided them with a good introduction to live theater.  The pluses in this splashy version include Danielle Wade recreating her original Toronto role as Dorothy.  She sings sweetly and stops the show several times with the familiar “Over the Rainbow.”  Her only negative is that she’s tall and when a young woman towers over several male cast members, it’s hard to buy her gullible naiveté.  Her Toto, that charming little dog who travels with Dorothy on her Munchkinland adventures, is Nigel and he does amazingly disciplined things on stage.

Jacquelyn Piro Donovan is initially stodgy as the mean Miss Gulch but she’s terrifying but somewhat glamorous later as the Wicked Witch of the West.  Jamie McKnight brings great emotion to the Scarecrow and Robin Evan Willis sparkles as Glinda, the good witch who shepherds Dorothy through her dream adventure.  Both Mike Jackson’s Tin Man and Lee MacDougall’s Lion are played with fine conviction although neither betters the film actors who played these roles.

Disappointing is Jay Brazeau’s lackluster Wizard, and neither Larry Mannell’s Uncle Henry nor Chelsey Duplak’s Auntie Em ever convince audiences they really care about Dorothy.

Jeremy Sams staging keeps the show moving briskly and Arlene Philips breezy but mundane choreography keeps things moving on stage but not creatively.  The sets aren’t bad and they swirl into place effortlessly while the costumes use film standards.  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s several new songs don’t detract from the Arlen/Harburg originals, but they don’t add much either.  Especially in the second act, the new songs would be best forgotten.

If you’re an adult who is fond of the original film, there’s no reason to see this “The Wizard of Oz” but if you are a child with limited exposure to the classic film, this shiny new stage treatment of the familiar story will entrance.  This “The Wizard of Oz” is one of the best touring musical shows to hit ASU Gammage in far too long.  It continues through Sunday, February 9.  For tickets, call the ASU Gammage box office at 480-965-6678 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: B