On Theater: Yellow brick road still shines

Danielle Wade as Dorothy and Jamie McKnight as Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz."
(Cylla von Tiedemann)

When Judy Garland first slipped her feet into those ruby slippers 75 years ago, it’s doubtful that she realized she was helping to create a modern classic that has continued to charm people of all ages ever since.

“The Wizard of Oz” has spawned numerous incarnations since that fabled flick, but none more impressive than the touring production currently gracing the stage of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts — with additional lyrics and music from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, two of the best in the business.

Director Jeremy Sams and scenic and costume designer Robert Jones have fashioned a spectacular retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic fantasy, bolstered magnificently by the video projections of Jon Driscoll and Daniel Brodie. The tornado effects are awesome, seemingly sweeping up the audience along with Dorothy and Toto.

The memorable musical numbers of Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg are present, of course, along with the added Webber-Rice material, which fits in beautifully with the long-familiar story line. Characters are given added dimension as well as new songs to deliver.

At the center of this time-honored tale is Danielle Wade, who as Dorothy is swept away to a magical land and tries to find her way back home. Wade is charm personified with a gorgeous singing voice and she does justice to Garland’s career anthem, “Over the Rainbow,” as she ponders her lot in life on a troubled Kansas farm.

The title role is attacked with a pitchman’s flourish by Jay Brazeau, seen first as an itinerant magician and later as the ruler of the Emerald City. Brazeau won’t erase any memories of the movie’s Frank Morgan, but he does ratchet the volume up a notch and capture every scene he’s in.

Jacquelyn Piro Donovan makes a super-scary Wicked Witch of the West, cackling her way through the proceedings with gleeful menace. She’s less successful, however, in her Kansas incarnation of Miss Gulch, playing her lines continually out front while threatening Dorothy’s aunt and uncle, who stand off to the side.

As the Scarecrow, Dorothy’s first companion on the yellow brick road, Jamie McKnight successfully projects his character as boneless as well as brainless, flopping around the stage with abandon. Mike Jackson is a solid Tin Man, yearning for the heart to solidify what he’s already feeling.

The Cowardly Lion is played with all the required showmanship by Lee MacDougall, who’s also the beneficiary of some of Rice’s added dialogue zingers. When felled by the sleep-inducing poppies, he comments, “The lion sleeps tonight” and when awakened by the falling snow, he cracks, “Hey, I’m a lion in winter,” both lines drawing great audience response.

One line from the movie that’s always bothered me is Dorothy’s parting words to the scarecrow, “I think I’m going to miss you most of all.” When she utters it in this version, the other two companions voice their resentment, as they should.

Larry Mannell and Chelsey Duplak are splendid as Dorothy’s Uncle Henry and Auntie Em, while an actor billed as Nigel is a show-stealing performer as Toto, her beloved dog. Well trained is putting it mildly; this pooch races across the stage and hits his mark beautifully.

“The Wizard of Oz” actually dates back 104 years, when Baum first published his story, and a musical stage version came along in 1902. The classic 1939 movie is the inspiration for the current touring production and, judging by its impact at the center, it’s good for another 100 years.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: “The Wizard of Oz”

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Tickets start at $29

Information: (714) 556-2787 or