Kids Cheer, Parents Endure: WIZARD OF OZ

http://www.nsmt.org/images/Press/2013/WizardofOz/production/nsmt-oz-Witch.jpg

Photo Credit: North Shore Music Theatre

Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Based on the book by Frank L. Baum
Music & Lyrics of the MGM Motion Picture score by: Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg
Background Music by: Herbert Stohart
Book Adaptation from the motion picture screenplay by: John Kane
Directed by Joel Ferrell
Music directed by William Stanley

July 16 – August 4, 2013
62 Dunham Road
Beverly, MA 01915
North Shore Music Theatre Facebook Page

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Beverly) Let’s cut to the chase: your kids will love it.  The North Shore Music Theatre’s production of the Wizard of Oz is colorful and brimming with energy and special effects.

But is it any good?  Ah, now there’s the rub.

First, you have to do a gut-check of the source material.  Can you handle a razzle-dazzle, overly-cute 1930’s big-box-office musical onstage?  Frankly, I have always had a hard time with it.  Strip away our strange reverence for this campy tale and it’s just bizarre that this show has such long legs.

The story is okay; it’s a fanciful tale of a child coming to terms with the betrayal of the adults around her, as they side with the law in allowing Miss Gulch (Laura Jordan) to take away her pet.  For me, the real issue is the music.  The songwriters display some very nice lyrical chops and a swinging beat in the “If I Only Had a…” trilogy, but it’s like they run out of ideas and lay on the schmaltz instead.  Songs devolve to a base-point of manically happy, like a roller coaster that’s spinning out of control.

But okay, maybe you won’t overthink the songs like I do and you can just buy into the camp.  Fine.  So the question is, how do you do camp well?  Too many Wizards bow down to the altar of Judy Garland and don’t earn the audience’s attention.  Not this production.  Director Joel Ferrell allows his actors the space to create generally fresh interpretations of their characters.  Paul Sabala is a joy to watch as the loose-limbed Scarecrow, and Jordan provides searing humor and believability as Miss Gulch before the tornado strikes.

Not all the character choices in this production work.  Danielle Bowen seems to be striving for an Orlando-Bloom-a la-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean take on character construction by not making her Dorothy stand out, as if to augment the more outlandish characters.  Jordan’s range gets stunted after the tornado when she has to cackle every line, as we all demand of the Wicked Witch of the West.  Most curiously, Lance Roberts is a bit of a loose cannon, and almost appears to be performing his own stand-up routine as the Cowardly Lion.  But here he has good company, as Bert Lahr did straight-up vaudeville with the film anyway, and Roberts is much, much more entertaining.

The special effects are fun, although there was a bit of sloppiness to the production….a rip in the tights here, a forgotten hat there.  A few muffed lines.  Nothing terrible, but a bit surprising.

It also was fun to have a dog run for treats during pivotal parts of the play.  In fact, my favorite part of the play was when the dog actor Nigel (or was it his understudy, Loki?  Would I be speciesist if I admit I can’t tell them apart?) decided to clean himself during “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.  In fact, his unpredictability during that song drew Bowen to have some of her best, most unscripted moments on stage.

Did I answer the question?  No?  Look, no one goes to The Wizard of Oz to see Shakespeare.  If you want camp done earnestly and with some originality, I think you won’t be disappointed.  For me,  I found myself mentally ticking off musical numbers on the program like it was a church service, despite the high-energy performance bursting off the stage before me.

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