REVIEW: ‘The Wizard of Oz’ a new take on the classic story

Apr. 09, 2014 @ 10:33 AM

For fans of everything that is the pop cultural icon “The Wizard of Oz,” a new take on the musical is at the Durham Performing Arts Center through Sunday, part of its U.S. tour. The show originated in Canada and has not been to Broadway yet. It has several Broadway-level aspects as well as a few that might use some tweaking before it goes to the Big Apple.

The special effects are a nice surprise, with lighting and smoke – too much smoke on opening night, as the smoke detector was set off in the 2,700-seat theater. During a scene with Dorothy (Danielle Wade) and the Wicked Witch of the West (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan) early in Act Two, the alarm sounded and the house lights went on. No one evacuated, the electric system was quickly reset and the show was back on in less than 10 minutes. The audience was amiable and chatted quietly as they waited. During the show, the audience rewarded funny lines with laughter.
This production of “The Wizard of Oz” plays up the laughs, especially with the Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight) and a recurring joke about him not remembering what exactly it was that he needed. Lee MacDougall as the Lion plays for laughs, too, and the trio (Tin Man is Mike Jackson) makes the roles their own, along with a Dorothy much less timid than in the classic film. The costumes of the Tin Man, Glinda, Wicked Witch and Emerald City citizens were all great, however the Lion and Scarecrow costumes weren’t quite up to the same level. Toto is a real dog, (real name Nigel) and very well-trained by William Berloni.
Effects-wise, the production makes good use of a stage-wide screen, especially during Act One’s tornado. It was executed so well that the audience applauded mid-scene, a confirmation of its feat and impact. The tornado was a highlight as well as the entrance of Glinda the Good Witch (played on opening night by Amanda Struthmann). Like her dress, she sparkled.
But one aspect that asks for the same treatment is the yellow brick road itself. With the efforts put into other design and effects, the yellow brick road was a missed opportunity to garner that same level of accomplishment. Unlike new productions, any take on a beloved classic is held to a higher standard.
At the end of the show, the full audience didn’t immediately jump to their feet, but they did applaud happily, content in a new telling of “The Wizard of Oz” and a chance to relive the magic again. All the songs from the film are there, as well as a few new ones. The orchestra was great as always. Opening night had many children in the audience, who laughed heartily and clapped enthusiastically throughout the performance. This production is a good way to introduce them to the well-loved story.

WANT TO GO?

WHAT: “The Wizard of Oz”
WHEN: Through Sunday
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham
TICKETS: www.dpacnc.com