Review of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Wizard of Oz”.

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The family saw “The Wizard of Oz” at Starlight last week, a new version, with additional songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Tim Rice. Jonathan’s already posted his review of it, but I wanted to write one of my own.

The new songs (and occasionally additional lyrics for the old songs) fit in well stylistically with the rest of the show, which is one thing I had wondered about when I first heard about it. I think my favorite new song was “The Wonders of the World,” sung by Professor Marvel (with a few interjections by Dorothy) as he puts on his magic lantern show for her.

One thing I always look for when seeing a stage version of “The Wizard of Oz”, is whether the lead actress tries playing Dorothy, or instead plays Judy Garland. Judy played the part well in the movie, but that by far isn’t the only interpretation possible for the role. I’m pleased to note, that was indeed the case for this production. It probably helped that we first saw Dorothy in tattered overalls, rather than in her dress, which gave a totally different view of the character. (She did change into her blue checked dress before winding up in Oz.)

Indeed, none of the characters were costumed like in the movie, most notably the Scarecrow, and Glinda (who wore a black sequined dress, very striking, but about as far from pink fluff as you could get).

I enjoyed most of the characterization, except for the Scarecrow. One of the main points of the book (and, to a lesser extent, the MGM movie) was that the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, didn’t actually need the boons they were trying to get from the Wizard. The Scarecrow, in spite of his lack of brains, was always coming up with good ideas, or at least asking good questions. The Tin Woodman was so tender-hearted, he cried when he stepped on some ants (and rusted his jaw shut). The Cowardly Lion faced down monsters (and Baum could come up with some hideous monsters), and jumped across deep chasms, in spite of being afraid while he did so. But in this version of the show, the Scarecrow wasn’t very smart. And he remained not very smart until the Wizard put the diploma in his hand, and he rattled off the same fake equation that the Scarecrow did in the movie.

If he had not been very smart when he first fell off the pole in the cornfield, and grown smarter as the show went on (say having an idea when they were stuck in the poppy fields, with Dorothy and the Lion asleep, and the Tin Woodman rusted, and he was in charge for that short period of time), and gradually worked up to the point that when they were going to rescue Dorothy from the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle the other characters were looking to him to come up with ideas (especially if none of them realized that’s what they were doing), I would have appreciated it much more.

The show relied heavily on cinematographic effects, showing things like the interior of the tornado, and the thousands of flying monkeys as short movies on the scrim. For the most part this was good, though when we watched Dorothy being carried off by flying monkeys as a cinematographic effect, I wondered if they were using it too much, when they could have done better with practical effects.

I did enjoy much of the humor in the show, such as when we focused on the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion after Dorothy had been carried off. The Scarecrow’s arm had been torn off (“That’s you all over!”) and the other two were waving it around for emphasis all through the song while they were trying to decide what to do, while the poor Scarecrow kept trying to grab it. Then, when Toto ran up, the Lion picked him up, and asked him where Dorothy was. One of the other characters said, “Don’t be silly, animals don’t talk.” The Lion just gave him a look. To the audience he gestured to the dog, to himself, and gave a shrug.

All in all, the show was one I thoroughly enjoyed.

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