May 16, 1997
Stage 'Oz' fails to muster much bluster,
A pale imitation of the Technicolor film
By David Patrick Stearns
NEW YORK -- Shortly into the big new stage version of The Wizard of Oz (# 1/2 out of four) at Madison Square Garden, you have to ask yourself how much cheesiness can be excused because the target audience is children.
When the source material is a beloved classic film, the answer is none -- even with a major celebrity such as Roseanne playing the Wicked Witch of the West.
Unlike Beauty and the Beast, which was reimagined and augmented for the theater (albeit with questionable taste), this Wizard, which has already been extended through June 8 and may tour, remains tethered to the fantastical 1939 film in both music and script. It suffers immensely by comparison.
The script is so pared that everything happens in hectic succession, though one thing was added that the film cut: a brief duet between the Scarecrow and the crows. Visual effects inspire little amazement. Munchkinland resembles a Florida shopping mall and the Emerald
City a big-budget St. Patrick's Day party. The wizard himself is represented by a large, shiny green head. The twister inspires no terror.
The actors must live up to one of the most perfectly cast movies ever made. Most are amiable, including lovely-voiced Jessica Grove as Dorothy, charming Michael Gruber as the Tin Man, and expansive Ken Page as the lion. But inevitably, they fall into imitating
their predecessors, or, in the case of Lara Teeter's Scarecrow, exaggerating moves to point of ridiculousness.
As for Roseanne, I'd love to see her in a real stage role, not something as thankless as this, requiring little more than rage and cackling. She gives the witch welcome flashes of attitude and has a good sight gag with a cone-shaped hairdo that fits neatly
inside her peaked hat. But that's it.
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