— Bridget Esler as Dorothy, R.G. Miller as Professor Marvel. Photo credit: David Cooper
THE WIZARD OF OZ
Over the Rainbow, Follow the Yellow Brick Road, If I Only Had a Brain/a Heart/the Nerve, We’re Off to See the Wizard, Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead.
The Wizard of Oz is like an old friend. We know the story and all the great songs. So going to see a production is just waiting to see how they’ll fill in the blanks. At the Gateway this season they’re doing it with panache.
Barbara Tomasic’s production starts slowly. The scenes back home in Kansas with Dorothy (Bridget Esler), Aunt Em (Jill Raymond), Uncle Henry (Nathan Cottell) and the rest are where the story shows its age. They feel old-fashioned and stilted, and are pretty much completely stolen by Toto the dog, who upstages everyone. Nor do the special effects rendering the tornado that lands Dorothy in Oz feel very special. And her welcome by the chorus of Munchkins is underwhelming.
But from there the show takes off as Dorothy makes her way to the Emerald City with the help of good witch Glinda (Raymond again, doing very good work) and her new friends Scarecrow (rubber-limbed Victor Hunter), Tinman (Lindsay Warnock), and Cowardly Lion (fabulous Tom Pickett, who puts Toto’s scene-stealing to shame). We meet the very Wicked Witch of the West (snarling, screeching, scenery-chewing Tara Travis), and finally the finagling Wizard himself (R.G. Miller). Esler’s Dorothy is fine, but all the acting and singing here is strong, making the show feel more like an ensemble piece than a star vehicle.
The chorus of all ages gets progressively interesting, playing flying monkeys, a trio of charming apple trees and more, and getting to show off their dancing as Dawn Ewen’s choreography becomes increasingly more watchable until climaxing with the spectacular “Jitterbug” near the end of the second act.
The designers start to take centre stage as well. Lauchlin Johnston’s versatile set transforms into all sorts of different places (which Tomasic uses very effectively to conceal and reveal key characters at various moments). Carmen Alatorre’s many costumes are colourfully fun. And Sean Nieuwenhuis shows off his wizardry with amazing video projections to create the spooky magic of the Wicked Witch and Wizard.
Chris King seamlessly directs the ten-piece orchestra, helping this long show (almost three hours with intermission) whiz by. It’s as classic as a classic should be, and a true family delight for the holidays.