Thursday, April 1, 2010

Theatre review: "The Wizard of Oz" in the Broadway Across America series-through April 4th

A national touring company has been following the dollar-paved road in what is called the Broadway Across America series. The show is The Wizard of Oz. Note, though, that this stage version of the classic movie has never been on Broadway. It doesn’t look as if it could, especially since the cast has no members of Actors Equity and the pit contains a non-union orchestra. The performing comes across serviceable at best and certainly doesn’t look like what most of us expect to be Broadway quality.

This has been billed as the Royal Shakespeare Company version. That turns out to mean that the script is an adaptation for that company by Englishman John Kane. Not of L. Frank Baum’s book but mainly a transcription of the dialogue from the 1939 film. The plot stays the same, of course, and Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s songs get sung with adequate voices. Clearly, the whole thing looks and sounds like a deliberate attempt to replicate the movie, to imitate rather than innovate, albeit with a few routine dance numbers added.

If this is how it was conceived by director Nigel West, who has major credits, then he has done nothing original, clever or creative. And the cast fits right into that predictable mold, not one actor making any role distinctive. The major trick by the man playing the Wizard of Oz’s is to try to fool you into thinking he's channeled Frank Morgan instead of being a real person. The actress in Dorothy’s pigtails remains somewhere under the radar not doing a Judy G impression instead coming across as no one. The Scarecrow and The Tin Man, despite decent costumes and distinctive movements, fall into interchangeable personalities. The guy in the Cowardly Lion costume doesn't display the courage of his convictions when he speaks. And the woman taking on The Witch looks as if she’s flying through on her way to a better role which doesn’t require so much empty cackling. Meanwhile members of the traveling company do tiny voice shtick as Munchkins even though most are taller than the original cast, while local kids, at the right height and who have genuinely miniature voices, get no lines. And cute little Dusty or Loki, whichever wagged Toto on opening night… the program didn’t say…must have it his contract that he gets an off-stage break every five minutes.

As for special effects, indeed you’ll see a few cute ones, including frequent flyers, but Glinda the Good must have lost her ticket and missed getting on board her flat wooden bubble; most of the time she has to walk. This low-budget production equally often relies on film projections rather than actual scenic devices. The sets looks OK, except that Munchkinland resembles a department store’s idea of Santa territory and The Wizard’s allegedly terrifying roaring mask, which never opens its mouth, seems borrowed from a defunct shopping mall Polynesian restaurant.

There’s no place like home. That’s where you should stay and watch the DVD. At least, amid the live comfort of real loved ones, you can sing along and not have to shell out greenbacks for an empty shell.

This production of The Wizard of Oz is at Heinz Hall through 6:30 pm Sunday April 4th.
412-392-4900; online at

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