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updated: 5/4/2014 6:41 AM

Touring 'Wizard of Oz' wows -- and Toto, too

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  • Danielle Wade stars as Dorothy in the national tour of "The Wizard of Oz," now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, May 11. Wade won the role via a 2012 Canadian reality TV show called "Over the Rainbow."

      Danielle Wade stars as Dorothy in the national tour of "The Wizard of Oz," now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, May 11. Wade won the role via a 2012 Canadian reality TV show called "Over the Rainbow."
    Courtesy of Mirvish Productions

  • Dorothy (Danielle Wade) invites the Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight) to journey with her to the Emerald City in the national tour of "The Wizard of Oz" now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, May 11.

      Dorothy (Danielle Wade) invites the Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight) to journey with her to the Emerald City in the national tour of "The Wizard of Oz" now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, May 11.
    Courtesy of Cylla von Tiedemann/Mirvish Productions

  • Dorothy (Danielle Wade) and the Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight, right) encounter the Tin Man (Mike Jackson) in the national tour of "The Wizard of Oz" now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago through May 11.

      Dorothy (Danielle Wade) and the Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight, right) encounter the Tin Man (Mike Jackson) in the national tour of "The Wizard of Oz" now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago through May 11.
    Courtesy of Cylla von Tiedemann/Mirvish Productions

  • Dorothy (Danielle Wade) is greeted by the good witch Glinda as the Munchkins look on in the national tour of "The Wizard of Oz," now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, May 11.

      Dorothy (Danielle Wade) is greeted by the good witch Glinda as the Munchkins look on in the national tour of "The Wizard of Oz," now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago through Sunday, May 11.
    Courtesy of Cylla von Tiedemann/Mirvish Productions

  • Video: 'The Wizard of Oz' advert

 
 

While British and Canadian audiences were swept up in the reality TV shows that helped cast "The Wizard of Oz" tour now in Chicago, local audiences are less likely to give the TV ties much thought.

Rather, "The Wizard of Oz" fans at the Cadillac Palace Theatre are probably more curious about how slavishly faithful the stage production is to the classic 1939 film. That's because songwriters Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice ("Evita," "Jesus Christ Superstar") have added new material for the show alongside Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's original film songs.

Let's just say that while the new tunes don't detract from the tale, they don't live up to the original songs, either. Those songs -- like "Over the Rainbow" and "We're Off to See the Wizard" -- are permanently imprinted on America's pop culture psyche.

Also, one of choreographer Arlene Philips' new Act II dances for the Wicked Witch of the West's winkie minions feels tacked on just to give the ensemble more to do.

But on the whole, "The Wizard of Oz" under director Jeremy Sams strikes a good balance. It's faithful to the classic film while also colorfully striding ahead as a 21st century production -- as seen by the significant use of flashy computer animation projections for tornado and flying monkey effects.

Script adapters Lloyd Webber and Sams smartly leave in the film's most memorable catchphrases, while also including new character traits and more modern jokes.

For instance, plenty of comedy points are won with the brainless Scarecrow of Jamie McKnight, who is much more dimwitted onstage. Also, Lee MacDougall's take on the Cowardly Lion is more suggestively effete. At one point, he proudly proclaims that he's "a friend of Dorothy" -- a pre-Stonewall Riots expression for gay.

As Dorothy and the Wizard, the vocally accomplished Danielle Wade and Jay Brazeau draw on their film predecessors of Judy Garland and Frank Morgan as templates for their sturdy performances. Some may see that as a lack of originality, but it's really more of an homage. Wade and Brazeau give audiences what they expect in this all-American story of a Kansas girl who tries to make sense of being transported to a magical land.

Mike Jackson's sturdy Tin Man is fun and deft with the clever addition of tap dance steps, while Jacquelyn Piro Donovan and Robin Evan Willis shine vocally with operatic trills as the dueling Wicked Witch of the West and the good witch Glinda.

There's also an adorable and well-trained dog named Nigel playing Toto, which is just one of many delights of "The Wizard of Oz" onstage. It's a production that not only taps into an audience's nostalgia but also respectfully honors an enduring film classic.

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