The weeks run of The Wizard of Oz touring production at Durham Performing Arts Center was virtually sold out by Tuesdays opening, proving that fans of the film can never get enough, whatever the format. For the record, this version stays faithful enough to the original to satisfy traditionalists but puts enough creative spin on it to make it a different experience.
The tour is based on the 2011 London production and the 2013 Toronto staging. The script, adapted by director Jeremy Sams and Andrew Lloyd Webber, generally follows the movie, adding in topical humor for the adults and expanding the role of the Wicked Witch of the West, including her big number, Red Shoe Blues one of five new songs by Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice.
Scenic and costume designs by Robert Jones echo those in the film but arent slavish to them. His Kansas scenes have appealing, sepia-toned sparseness, enhanced by video designer Jon Driscolls frightening tornado sequence. Both designers use a great deal of color and dramatic contrasts in the Oz sections, from the darkly foreboding trees of the forest and the gleaming buildings of Emerald City to the Wizards giant face projected on his chambers wall and the monkeys flying Dorothy to the Witchs castle.
The actors make their characters individual without mimicking those in the film. Danielle Wades Dorothy is more forthright and feisty than Judy Garlands, and she sings Over the Rainbow more in Broadway anthem mode. But her personality is endearing, and she works well with Nigel the terrier (Toto), who upstages everyone, to the audiences delight.
Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (remembered for her star turns in Funny Girl and Hello Dolly at N.C. Theatre) adds dripping sarcasm and hilarious obsession to her Wicked Witch of the West, while Jay Brazeau is wonderfully warm and quietly humorous as both Professor Marvel and the Wizard.
Jamie McKnights floppy Scarecrow amusingly lobs every no-brain joke given him, while Mike Jackson impresses as the tap-dancing, ever-clanking Tin Man. Lee MacDougall gets laughs from his many lion-related punch lines, despite an odd diffidence in his characterization.
Any small complaints about particular moments get swept away by overwhelming nostalgia, as exhibited by the audience constantly chiming in on key lines and song lyrics.