Thursday, October 30, 2008

Two Critics, Two Reviews, and a WIZARD

Both the Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald reviewed the National Tour of the Wizard of OZ, playing at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. I didn't want to include them in this week's The Scene for two reasons:
  1. It's a national tour, and I've decided it's unfair to stack up a multi-million dollar production against shows that our local companies produce for a fraction of that.
  2. I want to compare the review of the Herald's Christine Dolen to that of Rod Stafford Hagwood, the Sun-Sentinels Fashion Editor.
To save time and effort, (because I don't get paid for this), I will put Dolen's quotes in Blue, and Hagwood's quotes in Red. (This has nothing to do with the election: look at their respective paper's logos.)

First, some basic information about the production:

There's a brick road separating the two venues that make up Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. It isn't yellow, but if you follow it into the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House this week, you'll wind up in that magical place called Oz.

But is the journey worth it?

There's no downloading Dorothy.

You'll have to explain to your children that they'll just have to go, sit and see the musical The Wizard of Oz onstage at Miami's Arsht Center.

That depends in part on how you feel about the iconic 1939 movie version of L. Frank Baum's children's story. The American Film Institute counts The Wizard of Oz among the top 10 movies ever made.

To be sure, there is an effort to bring the 1939 film version of the L. Frank Baum classic book (published in 1900) into the cyber-riffic age of video games and CGI.


Anywho, the film was a special effects acheivment: and it's always difficult to translate film effects to the stage. What do the critics say about this production?

The result is a family-friendly show with some dandy special effects (that Kansas tornado in particular), a musical that is thoroughly competent and not much more. It doesn't achieve the spectacular stage magic of the Oz spinoff Wicked, nor does it bring much that's fresh to the retelling of a classic story (and no, the Lion King reference doesn't count).

The cyclone that whisks Dorothy Gale from Kansas to the Land of Oz is a mightily impressive use of scrim screens and videotape. The Wicked Witch of the West has an arsenal of fireballs shooting from her broom. The pacing of the story is closer to Grand Theft Auto, whipping from one Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg musical gem to another so fast it's a wonder Dorothy doesn't trip over her ruby red slippers.

But a live show is really about the performances. And in The Wizard of Oz, the show rests on the shoulders of its Dorothy:
Pretty, winsome Cassie Okenka wears Dorothy's braids and the Wicked Witch of the East's ruby slippers. She's a grown-up playing a girl, but she brings a lightness and energy to the part, and her interactions with the dog playing Toto (either Snickers or Princess, depending on which performance you catch) ratchet up the cuteness factor.

But beyond all the pyrotechnics, this story is centered on Dorothy. Cassie Okenka tries gamely and certainly has the pipes. But she just never even touches on the vulnerability or the gosh-golly-jeepers awe of her one guaranteed applause-getter: Over the Rainbow.
OK, but how about the rest of the cast?
Noah Aberlin is a rubber-limbed Scarecrow, Chris Kind a clanking yet dashing Tin Man and Jason Simon a crowd-pleasing Cowardly Lion whose performance owes everything to Bert Lahr. Caitlin Maloney is anearnest Aunt Em and a comforting Glinda, though that other-worldly quality Billie Burke brought to her movie portrayal isn't there. A green-faced Pat Sibley cackles up a storm as the Wicked Witch of theWest, tossing the odd fireball as she threatens Dorothy and her crew. But that vibrantly spooky combination of menace and subtle humor that Margaret Hamilton pulled off in the movie? Not there.

And then there's the Emerald City Guard as played by Bruce Warren. He channels confetti-tossing comedian Rip Taylor; managing to be simultaneously hokey and hilarious.
All right, Dolen didn't mention Warren, but Hagwood didn't mention anyone else AND didn't mention that Warren was playing several roles.

Do the critics have any other points to share?
The touring cast is augmented in Miami by a dozen students from a troupe called the Elite of Dance Empire. The kids get big-stage experience as Munchkins and Winkie soldiers...

Wouldn't vaudeville meld seamlessly with the steamer trunk of a set and the stagy choreography?
And in conclusion, what are the critics' final words?
...stacked up against a beloved movie and a theatrical spinoff, this Wizard of Oz comes in a distant third.

Sometimes things are so old, they become new and fresh again. Particularly to a new digitized generation.

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