The Capital Region’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Heather Kirk

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The humdrum days of March were a little less so for those fortunate enough to be transported “over the rainbow” and into the wonderful world of the Wizard of Oz, which appeared at the National Arts Centre from March 10th through 15th.

As adored and familiar as this production is through the much-loved movie, I wondered how the cast would measure up to the memories of those of us who knew the original.  Unfortunately for Cassie Okenka (Dorothy), despite her strong voice and lively performance, she could not quite match the awe and wonder delivered through Judy Garland’s performance in this role.  This was not the fault of Okenka though, just the large shoes, sparkly and red, she was expected to fill.  Those not familiar with the original were likely without comparisons to make and for them, she would have been absolutely delightful.

The bumbling farmhands played by Jason Simon, Chris Kind and Noah Aberlin who later went on to play the Lion, Tinman and Scarecrow respectively, did a great job of reflecting the character of their original movie models.  Simon in particular was outrageously comical with his portrayal of the cowardly lion, right down to the inflections in voice and gestures movie buffs fondly recall.  He drew more laughs and smirks by far than the others for his outlandish antics and cowardly quivering.

The other actors and actresses performed their roles convincingly, and with strong voices and characters, completed the illusion that we weren’t really in Kansas, I mean Ottawa, any more.

The other star of the show, for the kids certainly, was Toto, played by a live dog either named Snickers or Princess depending on the show you saw.  Little Toto drew awes and murmurs whenever he appeared on stage and was a fun surprise for the audience.  There is no doubt there was any other way to handle this but with a live little four-pawed friend.

Being a big fan of the original movie I was a little skeptical about whether a stage production would be able to capture any of the magic and majesty of the movie.  The opening scene further added to my doubts with the barren stage holding only a simple wagon and farmhouse structure.  However things improved from there with creative special effects including projections behind and in front of the stage, colorful costumes, plenty of smoke and booms to herald the movements of the Wicked Witch, and the dramatic scene of the melting witch which I still haven’t quite sorted out.

Overall the production was delightful and a fun way to escape the near-end-of-winter-hurry-up-and-come-spring blahs.

This magical production was delivered by Broadway Across Canada, a touring company that annually develops new and diverse live productions and then spreads the experience of Broadway throughout Canada and the United States.  Other productions by the company in the 2009 season include the Lion King and Annie.

Image © Billy Lobo/iStock Photo