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Theater: Stellar ‘Wizard of Oz’ at Bass Hall makes it fresh

This new production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is an adaptation of the all-time classic, totally reconceived for the stage. Developed from the ever popular MGM screenplay, this production contains the songs from the Oscar-winning movie score, all the favorite characters and iconic moments, plus a few surprises along the way, including new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
This new production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is an adaptation of the all-time classic, totally reconceived for the stage. Developed from the ever popular MGM screenplay, this production contains the songs from the Oscar-winning movie score, all the favorite characters and iconic moments, plus a few surprises along the way, including new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. © Daniel A Swalec

Jaded adults who might be tired of seeing certain theatrical titles appear over and over again every few years, like Annie or The Wizard of Oz, should, to use vernacular used by teens and grown-ups, get over it.

With Annie, the significance is that with each production there are dozens of five-year-old girls seeing it for the first time and falling in love with the art form and the magic of storytelling. (Also see: The Nutcracker.) The same goes with The Wizard of Oz, except that four or five generations of adults have serious nostalgia for that title.

The good news for anyone who doesn’t want to see another carbon copy of the movie, then the current tour of The Wizard of Oz that opened Tuesday at Bass Performance Hall is the ticket.

This production uses the original music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, but this time Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams have adapted the L. Frank Baum story, with Lloyd Webber writing additional music to a few new songs by his frequent collaborator Tim Rice. The first song, Nobody Understands Me, is particularly memorable.

Directed by Sams, this Oz’s design (sets and costumes by Robert Jones) is a little different too, in that it’s bigger, sparklier and, with the tornado, makes use of updated video technology. Some of the costumes, notably with Glinda (Rachel Womble), are strikingly different; but most of them reference the characters we know and love.

Under the music direction of David Andrews Rogers, the orchestra worked beautifully with the onstage action, never covering it.

You won’t find fault with the main performances, each of which brings something fresh to the roles: Sarah Lasko as a Dorothy with resolve; Emmanuelle Zeesman as Auntie Em; Mark A. Harmon as Professor Marvel and the Wizard; Shani Hadjian as Wicked Witch/Miss Gulch; Morgan Reynolds as Scarecrow and Jay McGill the Tin Man. Plus, as Toto, the adorable rescue dog Nigel (trained by William Berloni).

The Cowardly Lion is often singled out in any Wizard of Oz, because Bert Lahr’s original movie performance gets the lion’s share (sorry) of laughter. In this production, Aaron Fried is as funny without imitating Lahr, but a big part of the credit goes to the new adapters for giving him an extra bit of flair. There are several snort-worthy lion puns, he drawls out “fabbbuuulous” and, in a joke that probably went over many heads on Tuesday night, hugs the story’s hero as he proclaims “I am a friend of Dorothy.”

You have to wonder if the success of the musical Wicked made it necessary to freshen up The Wizard of Oz, and if that’s the case, all the more reason to love the former even more. It takes courage, heart and brains to make audiences fall in love all over again.

The Wizard Oz

Through Sunday

Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth

$55-$115

817-212-4280; www.basshall.com

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