Sunday, November 8, 2009

- Theater Review - The Wizard of Oz

The Peoria Civic Center Broadway Series opened their 2009-2010 season this past week with a stage version of "The Wizard of Oz" movie. And that is exactly what it was, the movie reenacted (nearly scene for scene) onstage.

The 1939 film was an innovative and wonderful adaptation of the Frank Baum classic. Over the last seventy years, this film has become a global classic, and deeply ingrained in the collective American consciousness. In the household of my youth, the annual airing of the movie was a much anticipated event. I estimate that, in my lifetime, I have watched this movie (or parts of it) thirty to forty times. Stop anyone on the street and the odds are pretty good that he or she can quote the lines and sing the songs. This level of familiarity can only breed.......well, boredom. The one saving grace in this area was the inclusion of the Jitterbug scene, the referenced but lost scene that was cut from the film. This was a charming, if abbreviated, dance and vocal number.

There were a couple of other standout scenes. The human poppies transforming into snowflakes and the human apple trees, tricked into throwing their fruit are two of these numbers.

There have been other exciting and successful adaptations of this story, most notably "The Wiz", the 1974 Black cast musical with a completely new urban score, and of course the more recent "Wicked" which elaborated on other plot possibilities with a completely new score and state-of-the-art effects.

After seeing this currently touring version, I could imagine a group of producers meeting and discussing the monetary success of "Wicked". "Let's just do the movie version, add some nifty special effects, and take it on the road."
Well, it made for a pleasant night of theater, but I can't help thinking that the restored 70th Anniversary version of the film would have been a little more enjoyable.

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