Growing up, every kid has a movie they watch to death. For me, it was Milo and Otis (my mom actually told me that since it was made in Japan, there was some kind of trade embargo so I wasn’t allowed to rent it anymore). But as for my sister, she couldn’t get enough of the 1939 Judy Garland classic, The Wizard of Oz. And since my sister was watching the movie on a seemingly daily basis, that means that I was too. So it’s safe to say I know The Wizard of Oz quite well. Sure, there were a few years of Oz-induced exhaustion, but I’ve come back around and, like most of us, have a special place in my heart for Dorothy and her pals.
That being said, I certainly don’t envy the task of attempting to duplicate such a beloved classic on stage. No matter what you go in expecting, it’s impossible to avoid comparing the stage musical to the immortal film on which it is based. The bar was set 75 years ago, and every Dorothy, Wicked Witch, Tin Man and the rest will always have to do their best to keep pace.
Adapted in 2011 by Andrew Lloyd Webber directly from the movie musical (rather than the original books), this production of The Wizard of Oz doesn’t avoid these comparisons, but instead playfully confronts them head-on. Whereas many adaptations of well-known works attempt to tell the story from a different angle, Oz knows what you came for and is happy to deliver. All of the original classic songs are present and, for the most part, untampered with (save for the quick number “King of the Forest,” which is cut from the Cowardly Lion’s set).
In addition to the beloved classics, the production also includes a handful of new songs composed by Lloyd Webber and his frequent lyrical cohort, Tim Rice. When adding music to an established roster, perhaps the most important factor is simply not to spoil the good will of the existing songs – to blend in more than stand out. And while none of the new tunes is likely to reach the esteem of “Over the Rainbow,” the new music blends in well with the simple, heartfelt quality of the original film’s score.
Perhaps the most important element of any Wizard of Oz adaptation is the role of Dorothy, who is played on this tour by Danielle Wade. She originally won the role through a Canadian television reality show called “Over The Rainbow,” which set out to find a Dorothy for the original Toronto production of the show. While Wade may not be the second coming of the great Judy Garland, she brings an undeniable charisma and likeability to the show, as well as performing a beautiful, powerful rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Dorothy is, of course, the focus of the story of Oz, and Danielle Wade’s sweetness, humor, and talent keep the entire show running at full-steam.
Despite a short interruption by the DPAC fire alarm, The Wizard of Oz is a truly impressive production. From the lively characters, beloved music, and design that was a perfect balance of impressive and unobtrusive, Oz is a trip down memory lane with just a dash of new life to keep things fresh.
The Wizard of Oz is playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center now through April 13th. For more info and to purchase tickets, visit dpacnc.com.