Arts & Culture

Review: Top-notch tech the highlight of NAC’s Wizard of Oz

Adults usually perform such demanding stage roles as the eternal boy, Peter Pan, or everyone’s favourite young redhead, Anne of Green Gables. Through sheer talent, theatrical tricks and generous sprinklings of pixie dust those adults can usually transcend their maturity and fit comfortably into child-like personas.

We have also come to expect Dorothy Gale, the main character of The Wizard of Oz, to be performed by an adult. The world’s most memorable Dorothy is the late Judy Garland, who played that role in the much-loved film of 1939, the year Garland turned 17. By that age, Garland was all womanly curves and possessed a singing voice that should have made her far too old for the role of the supposedly pre-pubescent Dorothy. And yet, Garland carried it off.

Emmanuelle Zeesman as Auntie Em, Sarah Lasko as Dorothy, Nigel as Toto, Randy Charleville as Uncle Henry, Morgan Reynolds as Hunk, Jay McGill as Hickory and Aaron Fried as Zeke in Kansas. Photo: © Daniel A. Swalec
Emmanuelle Zeesman as Auntie Em, Sarah Lasko as Dorothy, Nigel as Toto, Randy Charleville as Uncle Henry, Morgan Reynolds as Hunk, Jay McGill as Hickory and Aaron Fried as Zeke in Kansas. Photo: © Daniel A. Swalec

The touring production of The Wizard of Oz, courtesy of Broadway Across Canada and currently playing at the National Arts Centre, stars another adult, Sarah Lasko. This Dorothy, you might say, is tall for her supposed age. Even her opening scene coveralls can not hide her post-pubescent body. Her singing voice lacks the innocence and wonderment that Garland delivered so successfully in 1939. On Friday night, The Wizard’s opening at the NAC, it was not until Act II that enough pixie dust was tossed from the stage that the audience could really feel comfortable with Lasko pretending to be a child. In the end, Lasko succeeded. But it was a struggle.

Lasko did not dominate the stage as a great Dorothy should do. The problems were more than her maturity. On Friday, Lasko’s singing voice was uneven. She has great pipes. She just didn’t use them effectively all the time. You could not even make out the mumbled words of some lines in her solos. Generally, Lasko lacked presence and charisma. The plot calls for most of the other characters to fall in love with the young Dorothy. That must have been a difficult task for the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion and hordes of Munchkins.

Most of the supporting cast were stronger. Shani Hadjian was delightfully scary in the dual roles as the Wicked Witch of the West and Dorothy’s busybody neighbour Miss Gulch. Morgan Reynolds was a great Scarecrow searching for a brain. On the downside, Mark Harmon in the dual roles of the wizard and Professor Marvel appeared tired and bored. Emmanuelle Zeesman, an Ottawa native playing Aunt Em, had too tiny a role to give her much of a chance to demonstrate her talent.

Like all Broadway musicals, The Wizard is mainly about the song and dance numbers. It is hard to lose performing such familiar favourites as “Over the Rainbow,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” and “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead.” The cast generally acquitted themselves in such numbers, although the energy level could have been higher at times.

This Wizard also contains songs that were not in the original film but were created for this stage version by Andrew Lloyd Webber. They do not always fit so well with the original songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, although Webber’s “Red Shoes Blues,” as sung by the Wicked Witch of the West, was a surprisingly welcome addition.

This production of The Wizard has a full complement of whizz-bang special effects. The “tornado” that blew across the stage at the beginning was impressive. The Wicked Witch unleashed scary fires from her broom. Scenes of the Witch’s flying monkeys were eye-popping. The technical crew for The Wizard was obviously top-notch.

A note of caution: The Wizard lasts for 2.5 hours, including one intermission. That can be a long time for young children, even for the would-be Dorothys in the audience wearing their own sparkly ruby red slippers. The run continues at the NAC until Jan. 3. For info and tickets, visit www.nac-cna.ca.

BAC_Seasons_15_16_Generic_showimages3_288x432_WOZ