Theatre review: The Wizard of Oz is fun for kids of all ages

Like a good animated film there is plenty for kids of all ages in the touring production of The Wizard of Oz currently playing Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

This new stage version, which borrows heavily from the iconic Judy Garland movie, has enough action to keep the young ones engaged and just enough winks to keep those of us older kids entertained too.

In addition to keeping all of the movie’s Oscar winning songs, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have augmented the show with a number of new songs designed to fill in some of the blanks.  And while the new Webber/Rice songs don’t quite have the same appeal and impact as those from the movie, they do give Glinda, the Wizard and even the Wicked Witch of the West their own songs.

Winner of the 2012 CBC television reality show “Over the Rainbow”, 21-year old Ontario native Danielle Wade takes on the iconic role of Dorothy Gale and it’s easy to see why Wade won out among the 20 contestants.  A beautiful voice, Wade easily handles the music and has enough skill to make her Dorothy simultaneously irascible and lovable.

The real stars of this production though are the three “friends of Dorothy” who take the journey with her to the Emerald City: Tin Man (Mike Jackson), Lion (Lee MacDougall) and Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight).  A fresh take on these equally iconic characters, there is no attempt at imitation here.  McKnight is particularly funny, giving his Scarecrow a vacuous take on what a surfer dude might look like if he was stuffed with straw.

Danielle Wade plays Dorothy, Jamie McKnight the Scarecrow, Lee MacDougall the Lion and Mike Jackson the Tin Man in Broadway Across Canada’s new production of The Wizard of Oz.

Danielle Wade plays Dorothy, Jamie McKnight the Scarecrow, Lee MacDougall the Lion and Mike Jackson the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.

Melding the screen with the stage is the flavour here with a liberal use of video projections that help create the tornado that takes Dorothy to Oz, a trip through the Haunted Forest,  the flying monkeys and of course, the great and powerful Oz himself.  Slightly lower tech theatrical magic includes a Glinda who floats in from above in a wonderful shimmering gown that would make any drag queen envious and The Wizard’s escape aboard his balloon.

One of the better touring shows to roll into Vancouver in quite some time, The Wizard of Oz manages to pay homage to a movie that generations continue to discover.  It is with some pride and perhaps not a little irony that this is also a made-in-Canada production that will be playing in the likes of Minnesota, Florida, Arizona, Texas and Illinois.  But then I suppose it’s just another example of a long line of Canucks who continue to find success south of the border.

In a related bit of fun news, veteran Vancouver actor Jay Brazeau, with a copy of The Wizard of Oz script clutched in hand, held court during intermission to announce that he would be taking over the role of Professor Marvel/The Wizard when it arrives in St. Paul, Minnesota in a few weeks.  What fun it would have been to have had Brazeau in the role in front of a hometown crowd during the show’s Vancouver run, but sadly that wasn’t meant to be.

The Wizard of Oz

Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg.  Additional lyrics by Tim Rice.  Additional music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams from the book by L. Frank Baum and based upon the movie owned by Turner Entertainment.  A Bill Kenwright, The Really Useful Group, David Mirvish, Troika Entertainment and Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures production.  On stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until November 10, 2013.  Visit for tickets and information.

Mark Robins on Google+

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