Thursday, January 17, 2013


JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
17 JAN 2013
R: 2.5/5

TORONTO - In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ, the lead character really should be the Tin Man — and not, as you might suspect, because of any sparkling turn by Mike Jackson, who turns the character heavy metal in a production that opened this week at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

As the production grinds on, it becomes obvious that the song at its centre isn’t really the iconic Somewhere Over the Rainbow as sung by Danielle Wade, the people’s lacklustre choice as Dorothy, but rather the particularly prescient If I Only Had a Heart, as sung by Jackson’s Tin Man. 
In creating their new musical theatre adaptation of the classic Hollywood movie (itself adapted from L. Frank Baum’s book), producer Webber and director Jeremy Sams throw everything imaginable at their production, forgetting in the process that what the success of the tale has always depended upon is its heart. As a result, from the very opening scenes, an audience gets swept up in a tornado of musical theatre clichés that hits them like a flying house but leaves them feeling oddly untouched.

There are a few high points, most of which involve the classic tunes composed by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg for the movie — tunes that can stand up to today’s unsubtle and ear-splitting singing style and still tower over the additional music and lyrics contributed by Webber and sometime-collaborator Tim Rice. For the rest, it all seems a trifle unfocused as director Sams careens between invoking the movie — not a wise move, unless you can equal it in matters of the heart — and adding contemporary references with a knowing wink that quickly grows tiresome.

Along the way in scenes set in the Wicked Witches’ castle, he does however come up with a plausible explanation for Dorothy’s status as a gay icon. And once she’s freed the cast of gay Riverdance from bad choreography and a life of servitude to Lisa Horner’s study in green greed, Dorothy also elicits a concise and devastatingly accurate review of Webber’s music from one of her worshipful Winkies.

And while there is occasional redemption in the scenic designs of Robert Jones and the video designs of Jon Driscoll, such touches are continually undermined by bad costuming, the aforementioned lack of heart and by dramatic choices that are just plain strange. For her part, Wade seems so wrapped up in proving she has a Wicked belt worthy of Elphaba that she forgets she’s expected to to connect with her audience — and stand up straight while she’s doing it. And while the Tin Man’s musical lament may indeed serve as an inadvertent theme for this production, Jackson, just like Lee MacDougall as a fey Cowardly Lion and Jamie McKnight as a budding Lothario of a Scarecrow, fails to impress. 

So, if you want to set off to see a truly wonderful Wizard of Oz, pass over the rainbow that’s appeared on Yonge Street, and instead consider hitting the local video store.

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