Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Gay Pride of Lions

 Gosh Toto, are you gay too?!
Spoiler alert! The cowardly lion is Gay! And he is sporting the most phallic tail I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of…

The current production of the North American premiere of the Andrew Lloyd Weber production of The Wizard of Oz is a spectacular study in camp costume, intoxicatingly colourful sets, and brilliant special effects that wow audiences from start to finish. Standout performances by Lisa Horner as the Wicked Witch of the West, Robin Evan Willis as Glinda, Lee MacDougall as the Lion ‘ess,’ and Cedric Smith as the Wizard provide plenty of magical musical moments. Unfortunately the musical arrangements, especially in the opening number, have a pedestrian air to them that include, at one point, a kind of irritating beat box effect that overwhelms the melodic strains of Dorothy's opening number and flattens the score from the outset. Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg knew what they were doing. Why Andrew Lloyd Weber and his artistic associates felt they had to toy with perfection is somewhat baffling.

Danielle Wade in the lead role has a powerful voice and a charming presence, but she has not been directed to fulfill her full capacity as a promising young newcomer to the musical stage. Somewhere over the Rainbow becomes a sugary sweet ballad with a bold finale but not enough overall power throughout to compete with the multitude of diverse versions of a truly iconic melody and lyric.  Wade does an admirable job, but like other cast members, her performance is frequently bogged down by unnecessary moments of under-directed exposition that eat away at the poignancy of this classic going home story.

At one point an ensemble of darkly dressed dancers sporting near Nazi-like outfits provide a weak anti climactic end for the wicked witch, and come off as a bunch of disgruntled leather men at a tea dance at Woody’s on a dreary Sunday afternoon - and despite the fabulous Lisa Horner’s powerful vocals, her fabled demise is a bit of a letdown. This is a surprising turn of technical non-prowess since every other special effect in the show is superb - from a harrowing cinematic take on the image of the Wizard to a terrifying twister that transports us all to Oz.

There are plenty of subtle ‘gay’ moments throughout and the arrival in Oz is a truly gorgeous study in glorious green, great choreography, and spectacular art deco 'ish sets and costumes. . But like Jodie Foster’s pseudo coming out speech at the Golden Globes, these moments are shrouded in a kind of crowd pleasing disney’fied  apolitical sugar coating that doesn’t give this classic score and narrative the contemporary oomph it needs in order to compete with the perfect film version starring everyone’s favorite gay icon, Judy Garland.  This late in the day one would hope that Jodie, Judy and every furry faggy lion and lioness in town would boldly proclaim their queer allegiances…

And yet, ya gotta love that big erect furry appendage as it flounces across the stage and delights at every turn. It’s a fun show with lots of happy entertaining moments, and worth seeing if you want to subtly introduce the kiddies to political rainbows and classic scores. But if you’re looking for new friends of Dorothy, well, they might not be the most interesting examples on stage. Try any given drag night along Church Street. There are plenty of fabulous ones to be found singing their tails off. 


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