Webber’s Wizard of Oz, for the child at heart

Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I mean, people like me and an entire generation of boomers were weaned on The Wizard of Oz, the iconic 1939 MGM film classic. Indeed, practically every year, from the late 1950’s to the early 1980’s, I sat enthralled by the dizzying vortex of sights, sounds, colors and bewitching characters emanating from my television screen.

Once the VCR and my first of five children were born – I then began to relive my own Oz-filled childhood memories and replay the Hollywood munchkin and flying-monkey mayhem countless times.

Then, just as I thought my perennial addiction for anything Oz had finally abated, quicker than one could say ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber’ – enter Over The Rainbow, the CBC’s own made-for-TV reality quest-for-Dorothy competition.

hi-wizard-of-oz-opens-mirviEvery Sunday for nearly two months – my wife, our five children and I were riveted to the TV screen, eager to see who would remain or get the ceremonial ‘ruby slipper boot’ from the show. The last time I can remember spending a string of Sunday evenings watching television with the entire family, I believe Ed Sullivan’s guests and Topo Gigio were the main attractions. This type of sustained collective attention span is no mean feat in this always-on, age of Internet, mobile technology, hyper audience fragmentation and social media.

Now imagine my elation after two tickets to the Toronto stage production of The Wizard of Oz magically appeared (courtesy of our children) under the tree on Christmas morning. Fast forward to last Friday evening when, from my third row center orchestra seat, I was instantly thrust back in time and once again lured in by the irresistible pull of this powerful enduring narrative.

Yet, incredibly, the entire first half of the show I found myself reeling, caught between two worlds. I could not stop the dizzying cyclone of nearly four decades of Oz film clips, forever burned into my mind, from spinning and colliding with the visual feast unfolding in real time on the stage in front of me.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I stopped measuring, character for character, scene for scene, line for line, the Webber stage production against one of the most watched and celebrated films in cinematic history – that the real magic began. Soon, the vitality and exuberance of the characters on the stage began to shine through the dense fog of celluloid memory.

The Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight), Tin Man (Mike Jackson) and Lion (Lee MacDougall) are all solid characters who add doses of their own personal warmth and humor to their performances. Cedric Smith, whom some will remember as the father figure from Road to Avonlea, is perfectly cast as Professor Marvel and his doppelganger the Wizard of Oz.

Glinda’s (Robbin Evan Willis) saccharin-sweet personality and toothy perm a-smile are perfectly juxtaposed to the maniacal, zany demeanor of the Wicked Witch of the West (Lisa Horner).

Make no mistake though, the crown (emerald) jewel in this stage version of the MGM classic is Danielle Wade. Her natural charisma, powerful voice and youthful innocence make her the perfect choice to play Dorothy Gale.

Through her stellar performance, Wade is able to make us truly believe, if only briefly, in the eternal, redemptive human qualities of courage, wisdom and love. And in a culture where instant gratification and crude behavior are often king – that is worth far more than the price of admission.

Photo Credit: CBC.ca

Related Sites: http://www.mirvish.com/shows/thewizardofoz

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