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updated: 4/28/2014 6:28 AM

'Wizard of Oz' brings magic to Chicago

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  • Video: 'The Wizard of Oz' tour promo

  • An apparition of The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz terrifies Dorothy (Danielle Wade) and her traveling companions in the Toronto production of "The Wizard of Oz." The North American tour of "The Wizard of Oz" plays the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago from Wednesday, April 30, through Sunday, May 11.

      An apparition of The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz terrifies Dorothy (Danielle Wade) and her traveling companions in the Toronto production of "The Wizard of Oz." The North American tour of "The Wizard of Oz" plays the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago from Wednesday, April 30, through Sunday, May 11.
    Courtesy of Cylla Von Tiedmann/Mirvish Productions, Toronto

  • Canadian actor Jay Brazeau stars as Professor Marvel and in the title role of "The Wizard of Oz," which tours to the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago.

      Canadian actor Jay Brazeau stars as Professor Marvel and in the title role of "The Wizard of Oz," which tours to the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago.

  • The North American tour of "The Wizard of Oz" plays the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago from Wednesday, April 30, through Sunday, May 11.

      The North American tour of "The Wizard of Oz" plays the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago from Wednesday, April 30, through Sunday, May 11.
    Courtesy of Cylla Von Tiedmann/Mirvish Productions, Toronto

 
 

Vancouver-based actor Jay Brazeau ("Best in Show," "Stargate SG-1") finds it slightly ironic that he, a Canadian, is starring as the title character in such an all-American musical like "The Wizard of Oz."

Brazeau also estimates that Canadian performers make up 90 percent of the cast for this North American "Wizard of Oz" tour, which starts Wednesday at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.

"Except the Witch, who is from New York," Brazeau joked of his American co-star Jacquelun Piro Donovan. "We couldn't find an evil witch from Canada."

This current "Wizard of Oz" tour traces its roots to a 2010 British reality TV show called "Over the Rainbow," where viewers got to help pick an actress to play Dorothy in a 2011 London production. Viewers also got to vote on an owner's dog to play Toto for a special one-night-only performance.

The "Over the Rainbow" formula was duplicated for Canadian TV in 2012, when Danielle Wade, then 20, was cast as Dorothy both in Toronto and on tour.

"(Wade) was at the University of Windsor at the time and she just thought of trying out and seeing what it would be like to audition," Brazeau said. "The most amazing thing is, fine, she won, but then five days later she was rehearsing. So her whole life just changed. Working with her, she's just an incredible Dorothy."

What fans will see onstage goes beyond the original movie. The beloved Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg songs from the classic 1939 MGM film have been augmented with new material by British songwriters Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice ("Evita," "Jesus Christ Superstar").

"(Andrew Lloyd Webber) looked at the score and was so enamored of it," Brazeau said. "He was able to adapt to that with his music so the new songs almost sound like they belong there."

Brazeau is excited to play Chicago for the first time, especially since he has heard so many wonderful things about the city from working on films with native Chicago-area actors like Joe Mantegna ("Hoods"), John C. Reilly ("We're No Angels") and Michael Hitchcock ("Best in Show").

"It's really neat to present this story to an American audience because it's such a touchstone to them," Brazeau said. "We see so many little girls dressed as Dorothy who are brought by their grandparents who remember the experience of going to the movie and watching it each year on TV."

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