It’s all about the shoes. Andrew Lloyd Webber's delightful new stage production of The Wizard of Oz now playing at L.A.'s Pantages Theatre on the second leg of a 22-city national tour that goes through June 2014 is no Kinky Boots. But Dorothy Gale's ruby slippers are the true stars of a screen-to-stage adaptation that offers just the right amount of gloss as well as some new songs, by Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, to supplement Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's beloved 1939 movie score.
From the new song ''Red Shoes Blues'' about the Wicked Witch’s obsession (rhyming ''clueless'' with ''shoeless'') to the ruby sparklers back in Dorothy’s room in Kansas at the end of the show (75-year-old spoiler alert!), this production is both fashion-forward and mostly faithful to the classic film. While it may seem like blasphemy to add songs to such a beloved movie, Lloyd Webber and Rice's additions (mostly in the second act) help modernize the characters and move the story forward. Still, none are as hummable as Arlen and Harburg's originals.
Danielle Wade won the plum role of Dorothy in a Canadian reality show called Over the Rainbow (Lloyd Webber presided over a BBC version that cast the role for the 2011 West End production). Her rendition of ''Somewhere Over the Rainbow'' comes early on, and she quickly proves she has the chops to take on Judy Garland’s iconic role. Wade’s voice is strong and vulnerable at the same time, and she never overpowers the supporting cast.
The witches the Wicked Witch (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan) with her very green hair standing on end and Glinda (Robin Evan Willis) with a blue beehive piled high on top of her head look like they could be right at home in the Capitol of Hunger Games fame. While Donovan is fun to watch, her approach seems too tongue-in-cheek and not nearly evil enough. She isn't helped by Lloyd Webber and Rice’s new second act song for her, which makes the character seem more human and kind of silly (but might have worked better if she was scarier from the outset).
In classic panto style, the cowardly lion (Lee MacDougall) gets some of the best lines of the night, playing up his, ahem, dandy lion traits. And he gets a huge laugh from the adults in the audience when he declares himself a ''friend of Dorothy.'' In the comedy department, he’s outshined perhaps only by Toto (played by a rescue dog named Nigel who didn’t let out a bark the whole night).
Production designer Robert Jones uses video techniques to re-create a sepia-toned Kansas and a Technicolor (or, in this case, psychedelic-colored) Oz, as well as to simulate cinematic moments like the tornado and the falling farmhouse. The stagecraft is impressive, though there were several technical hiccups at the performance I saw. (The fabric gate to Oz fell down, Glinda had a minor wardrobe malfunction, and audio glitches recurred several times.)
There have been no shortage of recent Oz adaptations on stage and screen, ranging from the brilliant Wicked to the almost insulting Disney prequel Oz The Great and Powerful. Happily, Lloyd Webber's new stage production sticks pretty closely to the classic film. After all, there’s no place like home. B+(Tickets and tour info: wizardofozthemusical.com)