It’s hard to believe that L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wizard of Oz was released as a movie in 1939. Its message is so simple and so enduring that one can get caught up in the fantasy of the moment, the characters and the projections, the breathless pace of the comings and goings in Dorothy’s quest to get out of Oz and return to Kansas that the message can get lost in translation.
The latest incarnation of the L. Frank Baum’ book, Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg (music and lyrics) with additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, is making a stop at the San Diego Civic Theatre downtown through tomorrow, March 20th
The last time the tornado dropped the cast down here at the Civic was in 2011. In 2013 Moonlight Amphitheater in Vista gave us a terrific Wizard and just as recently as last year Lamb’s Players Theatre offered up Jon Lorenz’ remake of L. Frank Baum’s novel, an original Oz, A Wondrous New Musical that took everyone by surprise.
Now in its National Tour that had its world premiere in the London Palladium in 2011 with direction by Jeremy Sams, Jon Driscoll and Daniel Brodie’s projections seem bigger, more intense, longer and louder giving this incarnation, a darker tone but a more modern spin. Everything from Dorothy’s house to flying monkeys to witches, not to mention the HUGE tornado that then dropped us deep into a haunted like forest is up for grabs. All this is projected onto the screen to the delight of the audience. For yours truly, it was a bit overwhelming.
Robert Jones’ set and costume designs proved to be colorful and more modern (Dorothy is wearing coveralls) looking, but one of the numbers “Hail Hail The Witch Is Dead”, the dancers costumes looked like they came right out of German playbook with black trousers, suspenders, long sleeved shirts and black boots up to the knee. And while the performance dance…well it too had overtones. I know that was not the intension but even my friend commented on the look.
Wizard of Oz almost won the Academy Award in 1939 for Best Picture. It was sidelined by Gone With the Wind, but was nominated for six Academy Awards. Most notable was MGM’s use sepia in the beginning of the show in Kansas that later opens up to Technicolor when Dorothy drops down in the Land of Oz. Somehow its still a stretch seeing this show sans the Judy Garland voice in Over The Rainbow.
Just to be fair Sarah Lasco this tour’s Dorothy, has a beautiful voice.She is convincing enough to carry her audiences along with her on this wonderful and sometimes frightening journey where she meets up with creatures friendly and then not so friendly. Most fun could be found in Scarecrow (Morgan Reynolds), Tin Man (Jay McGill) and Lion (Aaron Fried). They have their shtick down pat and they are Good.
In case you missed the movie or any other production of this wonderful novel, when we meet Dorothy she’s not having a very good day. Her dog Toto (Nigel) bit the neighborhood grouch, Miss Gulch (Shane Hadjian who is also terrific as the green faced Wicked Witch of the West) and now Gulch wants to take Toto away from her.
Dorothy Gale who lives with her aunt Em (Emmanuelle Zeesman)) Uncle Henry (Randy Charleville) and a trio of farm hands Hunk, Zeke, and Hickory (Morgan Reynolds, Jay McGill and Aaron Fried who become morphed into the Scarecrow, The Tin man and The Lion) doesn’t think anyone on the farm, including Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are taking Miss Gulch’s threat seriously. She packs a suitcase and takes Toto with her on her journey to find a place Over the Rainbow… ‘where bluebirds fly and the dreams you dream really do come true’.
Before she gets too far she meets up with a sympathetic Professor Marvel (Mark A Hermon) who seems to understand her predicament but sends her home as strong winds and a tornado sweep both Dorothy and her house up, up and away finally dropping them both down on the Wicked Witch of the West’s (Shani Hadjian) house, crushing it.
It probably wasn’t a great idea to disturb this one because she is trouble. Now lost in the Land of Oz she comes across Glinda The Good Witch of the North (Rachel Womble) who offers her help to direct her back home but not before she runs into a bevvy of characters some helpful, some playful, some evil and some just plain fun.
As promised, this new Oz has all the glitz, updates and appeal ready made for today’s audiences. Dorothy isn’t quite the demure, frightened little girl as depicted in the movie but with a little more savoir-faire, and great rapport interacting with the other characters. The Lion, who is looking for his courage is well… a bit on the gay side (I’m proud to be a ‘friend’ of Dorothy’s’) and The Tin Man is bursting with confidence and manages a few tap steps in his tin-man costume while Scarecrow, the most vulnerable of the three, is always the most comical.
Mark A. Harmon’s Professor/Wizard isn’t quite as intimidating as other’s before him but works well in this new version. Everything seems to have been taken own a few decibels except the projections. I asked a few youngsters on the way out if they were frightened at any time during the performance and they said “no”, so there ya go.
There’s not much time left to see this classic, but it is worth a trip downtown.
It’s not difficult to understand the lasting power of this American Classic, ‘Its often ranked on the best-movie lists in critics’ and public poll.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 20th
Organization: Broadway/San Diego
Production Type: Musical
Where: 3rd and B Street, Downtown, San Diego
Ticket Prices:Check at box office
Venue: Civic Theatre