I have very fond memories of my family’s annual viewing of “The Wizard of Oz” as a kid. Here’s what I remember:
As a young Catholic boy, I remember the movie was always on during Lent.
Judy Garland was hot.
The movie looked so old with the black and white, and became amazingly modern when the color arrived.
There’s definitely the ability to wax nostalgic about the way we used to watch television. Check the TV Guide. Make sure the big console TV was warmed up. And go to the bathroom during the commercials.
Before the VCR came into Americana, this is how I experienced “The Wizard of Oz.” No recording, no pausing, just a commitment as a family to be around the television as we ate a bevy of cheese quesadillas and fish sticks.
SHNSF’s touring production from Toronto of “The Wizard of Oz,” running through Sunday, Oct. 27th at the Orpheum Theatre, is a joyful, faithful representation of the original film, and a technical marvel that allows for modern technologies to bring forth the story that still feels as warm and rustic as it did when I was a child. What makes this production so effective is that it merges the classic, with “Over the Rainbow” in all of its splendid, hopeful glory sounding as warm as ever, and the modern, with beautiful video and projections that shine brightly on the scrims.
The story is terribly familiar – the young Kansas girl Dorothy (a buoyant turn by Daniele Wade) and her dog Toto (a wonderfully committed fan-favorite Nigel) get swept up in a vicious tornado that takes Dorothy’s house and lands it right on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. The Good Witch of the North Glinda (a giddy Robin Evan Willis) and the munchkins treat Dorothy as a hero for freeing them from the evil witch’s clutch, but the Wicked Witch of the West (a solid portrayal by Jaquelyn Piro Donovan) vows to exact revenge on Dorothy for killing her sister. Glinda has also transferred sole ownership of the East Witch’s ruby red slippers to Dorothy, and sends her to Oz down the Yellow Brick Road for her safety from the angry West Witch, where the Wizard can help her return to Kansas.
Along the path are the familiar folks that Dorothy befriends and helps – the Scarecrow (a limber Jamie McNight), the Tin Man (a gentle Mike Jackson) and the Cowardly Lion (a humorous Lee MacDougall)
This adaptation with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice providing new songs doesn’t seem to really shed any new light on the brilliant original story, which is just fine as it stands. The music that matters most has nothing to do with Webber and Rice, but songs like “If I Only Had a Brain,” and “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.” These original songs were the lifeblood of the movie, and are certainly the lifeblood of the play.
Where this production works is the way any entertainment works when its target is children – it does not pander to them, yet tells the story and allows them to experience it organically. My seven-year-old daughter was my date for this night, and the production certainly kept her engaged throughout. From the dancing and movement from choreographer Arelene Philips to the slick set and the staging of Jeremy Sams, the production has a definite fresh feel.
“The Wizard of Oz” is a story that will be around forever. The universality of the story, the journey of a simple young girl, and the insecurities of non-humans who grasp what it means to be human is timeless. As life goes on, my wife, daughters and I will certainly gather around the television to watch the movie. And hopefully, there will be need to warm it up before we do.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
SHNSF Presents “The Wizard of Oz”
Music by Harold Arlen
Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
Additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
Directed by Jeremy Sams
The Word: The new music by Webber and Rice doesn’t add anything new or exciting, but the original story is as fresh as ever.
Stars: 3 out of 4
Through Oct. 27th
The Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market Street., San Francisco, CA
Tickets range from $50 to $210
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com