Theatre Review – The Wizard of Oz (Mirvish)

The new Andrew Lloyd Webber production of the much beloved film The Wizard of Oz is, in a word, pleasant.

The staging and décor stay pretty much to the original movie, and maybe that’s the problem. I remember a Wizard production of many years ago that played at the Elgin, which was really imaginative. For example, in the poppy field scene, luscious, seductive chorines were the poppies. This production is very routine by comparison.

The show does have several things going for it. The Canadian cast is strong. It’s nice to see Cedric Smith back on stage as the Professor/Wizard. Lisa Horner does a great job as the Wicked Witch. The three farm hands/Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow, Mike Jackson, Lee MacDougall and Jamie McKnight respectively, are all talented guys. Charlotte Moore as Auntie Em and Larry Mannell as Uncle Henry are always good, no matter what. Robin Evan Willis is a gorgeous Glinda, and Toto is adorable. Danielle Wade as Dorothy (who was chosen by a television audience is not charismatic as she could be, but does, in a word, give a pleasant performance.

The best thing about the show is the additional songs by Webber and Tim Rice, which fall mainly in the Kansas scenes. Rice is clever, and is still the best lyricist that Webber ever worked with. They have also written an anthem that is destined to become a classic. “Already Home” boasts a beautiful melody and stirring words. Any chanteuse/chanteur is going to want to latch on to that one. It’s also nice that Herbert Stothart’s original background score has been incorporated into the show to go with the Arlen/Harburg original songs.

Out of fairness, I should mention that the mostly geriatric matinee audience seemed to enjoy the show muchly. I’m just disappointed that the production wasn’t more innovative.

The Wizard of Oz, original songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, additional songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, (starring Danielle Wade, Cedric Smith, Lisa Horner, Mike Jackson, Lee MacDougall, Jamie McKnight, Robin Evan Willis, Larry Mannell and Charlotte Moore, directed by Jeremy Sams), Mirvish Productions, Ed Mirvish Theatre, Dec. 20 to Jun. 2, 2012

Theatre Review – Dancap Productions/Disney Productions’ Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and The Beast is a thoroughly enjoyable production for all ages. First of all, there is the gorgeous score by composer Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Secondly, there are the colourful storybook sets and shape-shifting costumes by Stanley A. Meyer and Ann Hould-Ward respectively. Third is the lively production numbers choreographed by Matt West. The sparkling direction is by Rob Roth. Last is the enthusiastic cast. Yes, I know they are non-equity, but they bring a freshness to the show.

B&TB began as a popular Disney move in 1991 that actually was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Three numbers were nominated for Best Song with “Beauty and The Beast” winning the award. The show was developed for a Broadway musical by the original book writer Linda Woolverton. It premiered in 1994 and ran until 1999. In other words, and in the lingo of the trade, the show has creds.

Emily Behny as Belle dominates the show. She has a strong voice with crystal clear diction. Her sunny personality bathes the stage in a warm glow. Behny also makes every dramatic moment count for something. Dane Agostinis plays the Beast like the Phantom of the Opera, but it works. He certainly finds the poignancy in his big first act closer “If I can’t love her”.

Of the rest of the main cast, Matt Farcher’s Gaston is irritatingly arrogant, Michael Haller’s French-accented Lumiere is deliciously droll, James May’s Cogworth is suitably fussbudget, while William A. Martin is Belle’s loving father Maurice. Jimmy Larkin plays Lefou, the show’s buffoon. As Gaston’s toady, he’s a little too slapstick for my tastes, but you could hear children laughing all over the theatre at his physical comedy antics.

The women can all sing. Julia Louise Hosack is a warmly sympathetic Mrs. Potts, Jessica Lorion is the sexy siren Babette, while Jen Bechter’s imposing Madame de la Grande Bouche shows the opera singer she was.

Besides the wonderful musical score, the delight of the show is its look. When the Prince rejected an old beggar woman, he suffered the curse that turned him into the Beast and his household staff into objects. Cogsworth is a clock, Lumiere’s hands are two candlesticks, while Mrs. Potts is a teapot and her son Chip a teacup. The big production number “Be Our Guest” is performed by eye-catching cutlery, plates, a tablecloth and napkins.

My one complaint is the lack of diction on the part of the ensemble and in some of the characters like Cogsworth. That is why Behny’s shines above the rest with her radiant Belle.

Dancap/Disney’ Beauty and the Beast, music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, (starring Emily Behny and Dane Agostinis, directed by Rob Roth), Four Seasons Centre, Jul. 3 to 22, 2012.