Well, gosh, Auntie Em!
Just when you thought “The Wizard of Oz” had exhausted all the magic of its proverbial rainbow, a newly imagined, Broadway-scale production blows into town to inform us that we aren’t in Kansas anymore.
With new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the British import that touched down at the Fox Theatre on Tuesday night is a splendidly realized trip to Oz and back again.
As directed by Jeremy Sams, the Emerald City has never looked greener, the Wicked Witch has never sounded so shrill and menacing, and Dorothy and her ragtag gang of Yellow Brick Road travelers have never had the heart, the brain or the courage to move us so deeply. (Well, not since the indelible 1939 film starring Judy Garland.)
Even little Toto (Nigel), who is rarely out of the grasp of Dorothy (Sarah Lasko), has never been so charming and obedient.
This new adaptation by Webber and Sams, which started out in London in 2011, sets up the tale by introducing new songs and characters that plant the seeds of Dorothy’s adventure in her mind. Keep your eyes on Professor Marvel (Mark A. Harmon), Miss Gulch (Shani Hadjian) and Kansas farm boys Hunk (Morgan Reynolds), Hickory (Jay McGill) and Zeke (Aaron Fried). For they just might show up “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
This treatment — with its dazzling special effects, splendid design and clever choreography — seems to want to give Broadway’s “Wizard of Oz” backstory, “Wicked,” a run for its money. And often, it does.
That said, some of the new material — including Dorothy’s opening lament, “Nobody Understands Me,” and the Witch’s Wagnerian “Bacchanalia” — doesn’t fit seamlessly into the musical landscape of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. “Already Home,” in which Glinda (the luminous Rachel Womble) advises Dorothy to look inward, makes good dramatic sense but sounds sappy and trite.
And yet the show rewards us in other ways: Jon Driscoll and Daniel Brodie’s video sequence approximating a cyclone mesmerizes. Robert Jones’ fabulous scenery and costumes reach for the stars with the gossamer arrival of Glinda, and descend to the depths of hell in the Witch’s “Red Shoe Blues” and “Bacchanalia.” (Check out the Witch’s Alexander McQueen-worthy black-swan get-up.) And the cast is for the most part top-notch.
Lasko, who works hard playing Dorothy and keeping an eye on Toto, is terrific. Her voice sometimes has the gurgling effect of Garland’s without the hysteria, and her Dorothy strikes a refreshingly strong and steely attitude. Reynolds’ Scarecrow is comically dexterous, and so androgynous at the beginning that you almost think it’s being played by a woman. McGill’s Tin Man is quite handsome under his coat of armor, and Fried’s Lion is cuddly in a Seth Rogen kind of way.
Harmon’s Professor Marvel-cum-Wizard is just a little bit of a caricature of an aging rapscallion in an unfortunate wig, though Randy Charleville’s Uncle Henry and Emmanuelle Zeesman’s Auntie Em are spot on.
I’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz” done as a straightforward play with breezy pop-culture references (thank you, Serenbe Playhouse). I’ve seen frayed-looking stage versions that made me want to declare, “Ding dong, the tired old show is dead.” But this “Wizard” has the effect of clicking its heels together and taking me back home, to a place of wonder, magic and surrender. Sometimes that thing we yearn for was right here with us all along.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.