Wamego # 22
Nov 14, 2014 If Ever, Oh Ever, A WIZ There WOZN’T….
At the risk of losing my Cult Card, I’d like to venture a personal opinion: “Not all Oz is good Oz!”
About fourteen months ago, I was subjected to Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s recent stage adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ. The production originally was launched in London in 2011 and heralded by a live British TV series/competition to select a new Dorothy Gale. Meanwhile, Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice augmented the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film score with several additional songs (dropping "The Jitterbug" and "If I Were King of the Forest” in the process), and director Jeremy Sams considerably “adapted” the movie script. Eventually, their composite effort opened at The Palladium to -- as I recall -- a reasonable degree of acceptance and success.
The presentation began its North American engagements in Toronto in December 2012. I'm not sure how far it traveled; the tour is now – mercifully -- over. At the behest and as a guest of Warner Bros., I was invited to the “official” OZ opening night at the beautiful Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, a year ago on September 19th. (For home video aficionados, the Pantages was the site of the 1954 premiere of Judy Garland’s A STAR IS BORN; surviving kinescopes of the thirty-minute “live” telecast of that all-star night give a good view of the frontage, marquee, and lobby of the venue.)
I made some post-performance notes that night; they are now -- as they were then -- just random, after-the-fact thoughts. But as Lloyd-Webber’s OZ seems to have “gone away,” at least for the time being, I’m finally led (not to say provoked) to share the still-incredulous reactions I manifested, all those months ago. As a warning: The following won’t be nearly as vehement as it would be if I were asked in-person what I thought, but for any who loved or even liked the show – and who are beset by high blood pressure – it might be good for you to stop reading now!
This is in no particular order; it’s just about whatever heinous memory pops into mind as I roll along….
It was one of the cheapest looking productions I've ever seen. That being said, anyone with theater background or passion knows all about touring companies – and how sets need to be comparatively simple, able to be "broken down," packed up, and shipped along. But OZ was appalling. There was a mouse-hill of a distant Emerald City across the twelve (count 'em! twelve!) (or however few) poppies in the poppy field. There was a Munchkin "village" where, apparently, most of the populace must be homeless; weren’t no abodes anywhere to be seen! We did view the interior of Dorothy's bedroom, where her ugly cupboard was bigger than the bed. And we were offered glimpses of the home of our villain: The Wicked Witch of the West's...what? Treehouse?
The Munchkins were garbed predominantly in blue, which nicely followed the color scheme set forth by L. Frank Baum in the original book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. But one and all, the "little people" were played by chorus members who were taller than Dorothy. So much for show business tradition and past incarnations, with little kids in those roles -- or the inventive THE WIZ, which put its chorus players on their knees (or some posterior region) on mini-rolling platforms, covered by costumery.
There was an almost total lack of effects. Except for Glinda's entrance, I don't recall that anyone ever "flew" -- not Almira Gulch, not the Winged Monkeys, not the Wicked Witch. The latter made every faux-dramatic entrance and exit -- swooping from or to the wings -- in an enormous flash of...nothing. No noise. No smoke. Her melting and the attack of the monkeys were put forth on the level of a poorly-equipped, unimaginative, small-budgeted junior-high school.
The "new" script was pretty much beyond comprehension. It eliminated sentiment. It eliminated humor. There were random gay jokes -- totally out of place in their sum total -- and they were pounded home with the subtlety of a snarky FOX News report.
The Scarecrow was scripted to repeatedly forget what he wants from the Wizard. This totally negated Baum's all-important, glowing rationale that the protagonists of his book already possessed what they sought -- and needed only to look inward to find those qualities. When Dorothy bid farewell to the Scarecrow ("I think I'll miss you most of all”), The Tin Man and Lion took onstage umbrage, as if the moment were a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE sketch.
The new songs were worthless and useless and pointless. (The Less Sisters....) Professor Marvel was given a ditty to sing to Dorothy in Kansas, which is an appropriate idea. But instead of a character-defining, plot-propelling moment, the lyric demonstrated -- in three choruses and a slide show -- “the wonders of the world,” including a gratuitous girlie picture. Apparently, none of the creative team bothered to realize that the end of each chorus might be his stated realization that, wherever he traveled, there was never any place better for him than home. This would have kicked across the same message to Dorothy, so that she would have been motivated to head back to the farm.
The Wicked Witch had a new number at the top of act two; as delivered (on opening night, anyway), it was lyrically incomprehensible. The corresponding choreography featured the entire chorus, male and female, as Winkie Guards. Herein, however, they shucked their robes at the midway point of the song, revealing what appeared to be flannel work shirts. Thus garbed, they delivered an oddly Western-styled routine, perfectly suited for rodeo line-dancing by demented cowboys. Later, after the Wicked Witch melted, the same guards offered a precision ensemble that involved a lot of pounding on the stage with drumsticks. Don't ask me why.
[By this point in the evening, my companion and I – both major musical theater buffs – were sitting, stupefied; we couldn’t even applaud. I gave Sue a side-glance during one of the aforementioned second act demonstrations and laughed out loud; she looked nothing so much like the entire opening night audience watching “Springtime for Hitler” in Mel Brooks’ THE PRODUCERS.]
It's possible that some of the performers were talented. One would never know it, however, from the ineffectual showcases provided by director, choreographer, designer, scenarist, and the new songs.
Finally, there was – throughout the evening -- a CONSTANT dependence on projections, which seemed another cheap and lame misconception. For the tornado effect, okay, fine; it's a decent way to get around the inherent problems of that staging. But Computer Generated Graphic animations were brought into play again and again -- in place of scenery, effects, creativity, or STAGE theatrics. Lame. Lame. Lame.
Now…. Do you want to know what I REALLY think?!
NOTE: I've just re-read this, and I take back my earlier qualification: I guess I summoned up plenty of vehemence after all. Oh, well…! I realize, too, this is the kind of commentary that might compel attendance at the show, just to see if it’s really so bad.
And THAT, kind readers, is why I waited until the tour closed to make this kind of public pronouncement!
Again, though -- and I stress this, with a…er, smile – it’s only one man’s opinion. And please forgive me, but I always want what’s good for Oz. So here’s a two-word review of Lloyd-Webber’s production: It wasn’t.
P.S. Nonetheless…here’s your chance to get even! If you’re in or around Boston this weekend, feel free to come by and review MY performances…:
THE GARLAND GALA WEEKEND!
TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PRESENTATIONS
A Garland for Judy!
A Cabaret Celebration of the Judy Garland Songbook
Friday, November 14th, 2014, 8:00-10:00 p.m.
Judy! A Legendary Film Career
Sunday, November 16th, 2014, 5:00-7:00 p.m.
Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA http://artsatthearmory.org/events
Parking Available, or mass transit via subway to Davis Square in Somerville.
$25 for one show or $40 for both Friday and Sunday shows!
[Special VIP package: $30 for one show or $50 for both shows, with a post-performance Meet & Greet with emcee/lecturer John Fricke and the cast.]
Reservations highly recommended!
For tickets to A Garland for Judy! http://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-garland-for-judy-a-musical-tribute-to-the-great-judy-garland-tickets-13209619327
For tickets to Judy! A Legendary Film Career http://www.eventbrite.com/e/judy-a-legendary-film-career-tickets-13209944299
About The Shows:
Friday, November 14th: A Garland for Judy! A Cabaret Celebration of the Judy Garland Songbook brings together four preeminent Boston vocalists -- Lynda D'Amour, Pamela Enders, Jinny Sagorin, and Randy Zinkus -- in company with musical director Tom LaMark in musical highlights from Judy's film, television, recording, radio, and concert careers. The show will be hosted by special guest performer John Fricke, the world's preeminent Garland and Wizard of Oz author/documentarian.
The evening's repertoire includes selections from such cherished films as Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, A Star is Born, Summer Stock, and Strike Up the Band; the duets Judy performed with everyone from Barbra Streisand to Mickey Rooney; and the one-woman concerts that thrilled audiences from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl, from the Palace to the Palladium -- and the Boston Common and Boston Garden!
The songs will be interspersed with Fricke's behind-the-scenes anecdotes about Judy's life and professional careers. It's a must-see event for anyone who loves the Classic American Popular Songbook, the joyous pop culture of the 20th Century, and the magic of the woman who was unhesitatingly billed, reviewed, and endorsed as "the world's greatest entertainer."
Sunday, November 16th: Judy! A Legendary Film Career presents Emmy Award-winning producer/writer John Fricke in a review of highlights from Garland's historic motion picture work, tracing her on-screen performance arc from age seven as one of The Gumm Sisters in 1929 (The Big Revue) to 1963 and the London Palladium (I Could Go On Singing).
Audiences will enjoy the singing and dancing Judy, the comedic Judy, and the dramatic Judy in both familiar and unfamiliar sequences with such costars as Mickey Rooney, Fanny Brice (the original "Funny Girl"!), Gene Kelly, Spencer Tracy, and many others.
Emcee Fricke will share stories and quotes from many of those with whom she worked, gathered while researching his recent book, Judy/A Legendary Film Career, and while preparing for his appearances as a guest presenter at the Turner Classic Movies Festival in Los Angeles earlier this year and on the TCM cable network. It's a guided tour "from the inside" -- all in honor of the incomparably talented artist recently defined by TCM host Robert Osborne as "the all-around, most-talented person that's ever been in films to date."
A Special Reminder: Buy tickets to both the Friday and Sunday shows and receive the special discount price; details above!
Article by John Fricke