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Show and Tell: A Parent's Review of 'The Wizard of Oz'

Published on: December 29, 2013



The Wizard of Oz, presented by STG at Seattle's Paramount Theatre, through Sunday, Oct. 13

The bottom line

Even if you caught last year’s Seattle Children's Theatre's version of Wizard, there are many reasons to click your heels together this week and make tickets to the Paramount magically appear.

Stage notes

Somewhere over the rainbow, there is always another opportunity to fall in love with a classic story and heroes’ journey into the Land of Oz, and to introduce the magic to a new generation.

The short but dazzlingly glitzy run of The Wizard of Oz is part of the first North American tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Jeremy Sams’ new stage adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s original story. This reimagining offers relevant and accessible new songs from Webber and Tim Rice, a slightly psychedelic interpretation of the wondrous Oz (never has the mostly metaphorical rainbow felt so, like, total there, man), and some modern comedic nods. (And oh — Toto is a real dog, kids!)

If you have kids over age 5 or 6, the show is worth seeing.

The storyline’s foundation on Uncle Henry’s and Aunt Em’s farm (and in Dorothy’s own subconscious) is slightly more developed here than in the film, which invites kids — especially astute tweens and teens and their tuned-in parents — to better relate to Dorothy’s sense of alienation and tap into the larger, lingering philosophical questions about what’s “real” and what’s not.

But purists, take heart — there’s plenty of reverence for and fidelity to the original (which pleased this loyalist to the 1939 film and Judy Garland’s inimitable Dorothy) — and I was comforted to see both a suitably sparkly pair of red slippers and the beloved yellow-brick-road hop-step (left out of last year’s otherwise delightful and ambitious Seattle Children’s Theatre production of Wizard).

First, you cannot beat the Broadway-level resources that allow for eyebrow-raising special effects (smoke, lights, screens, digital meteorological chaos, pop, pop, BOOM!) and larger-than-life sets that beautifully evoke the contrast between the dusk-and-dawn depth of the Depression-era Kansas farm landscape and the altered reality of an eye-bugging, dream-like Oz. Costumes were wow-worthy, too (my daughter and I equally loved the new iterations of Glinda’s goddess-like gown and the Wicked Witch’s feathery garb paired with her anticipated, old-school, heart-chilling green-ness).

The background behind Dorothy, played by Danielle Wade, is interesting: Wade was chosen by the Canadian public through CBC TV’s reality show Over the Rainbow. Wade’s interpretation of Dorothy results in a spunky, more rustic (yet still entirely wholesome —maybe a tad bit too wholesome for this fan) personality, less Garland-like girly and more prone to conjure in audiences’ collective minds a modern teen hopping on her skateboard and rolling her eyes at the injustice of authority.

Wade acts well and sings beautifully, capturing the universal teen angst, sorrow and longing in Dorothy’s dissatisfactions, but I didn’t feel she fully connected emotionally to the audience or to the three men who figure so prominently in her life and dream — The Tin Man, the Lion, and the Scarecrow — despite the script’s additional development of the three. Chills, laughter, and some seat-jumping this production did wrought, but ultimately no tears from this crying-prone sentimentalist.

The rest of the cast impressed as well, most notably Jamie McKnight, who carries off a charmingly goofy and slightly effeminate Scarecrow/Hunk; Mike Jackson (Tin Man/Hickory), whose voice nearly lulled me into a borderline-sensual catnap; Robin Evan Willis’ queenly (and mildly vain) interpretation of Glinda (did you practice for weeks to get that back arching just so, Willis, or were you born with that monarchical posture?!); and Jacquelyn Piro Donovan’s nasty and suitably psychotic Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West.

Scare factor

I took my 8-year-old daughter, not the bravest nor most timid soul. She had previously seen the original film and last year’s SCT Wizard. She wasn’t too scared, and I spotted kids as young as 6-ish in the audience who seemed to do well. That said, the witch is wicked, the effects are spooky, and a few of the light tricks are quite bright on the eyeballs, so buyer beware. Any kid who’s seen the film can handle this, and probably most kids 6 and up.

Parent tips

  • Paramount has seat cushions for little ones, get there early to snag one.
  • Bathroom lines get long at intermission, so potty ahead of the show.
  • Intermission is a great time to peer over the wall and meet the orchestra and even chat with some of the musicians, who love the rare attention.
  • This is a fun one for kids who are so inclined to dress up as their favorite Wizard character.

If you go ...

Where and when: At the Paramount Theatre through October 13: Remaining shows are Saturday, Oct. 12, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 and 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: $30 and up. Buy online.

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