The North American Premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Wizard of Oz took place Sunday afternoon in Toronto at the newly named Ed Mirvish Theatre, featuring CBC's Over the Rainbow winner Danielle Wade in the lead role. The gala opening saw many stars of Canadian theatre, television and media come out, including Over the Rainbow judge Daryn Jones, CBC's Jian Ghomeshi, Colin Mochrie and Deb McGrath, SharRon Matthews, Brent Carver and more. The lobby proudly displayed its new 'Yellow Brick Road', built to showcase bricks purchased in support of Sick Kids Hospital, and the marquee was decked out with a sparkly rainbow welcoming people to this new version of 'Oz'.
The show takes the classic tale of The Wizard of Oz and weaves in new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, but at its core is still the same touching story about a girl who journeys to a land far far away only to discover there truly is no place like home. And on Sunday, the city of Toronto celebrated their home as we watched some thirty-two of our own talented triple threats take to the stage and do what they do best.
There has been much debate in Toronto recently about the future of commercial theatre, with many stating that the days of the big budget musical are over and the best we can hope for is successful productions on a much smaller stage. Perhaps only time will tell if that is indeed true, but in the meantime The Wizard of Oz helps bring us back to the days of the big budget mega musical - and does so with an All Canadian Cast which is something to celebrate.
From the time when the show was announced in early 2012, The Wizard of Oz has done a lot to bolster Toronto's theatrical presence throughout Canada. Thanks to the CBC reality show Over the Rainbow, there is nationwide interest in the production from fans coast to coast who tuned in each week to choose their Dorothy. Add to that the inclusion of Canadian favourite Cedric Smith (loved by many for his portrayal of Alec King on The Road to Avonlea) and you have a production sure to bring in people from across the country who otherwise might not opt to attend a musical theatre production.
As for 'our' Dorothy, Danielle Wade does an excellent job carrying a very large show on her tiny shoulders. The production is big and bold, with huge sets, glamourous costumes and some very big voices. For a young lady making her theatrical stage debut, she holds her own amidst some incredibly talented and seasoned performers. That big and beautiful voice which won her the coveted Ruby Slippers on Over the Rainbow is in fine form, and when she hits the money note on the song that Judy Garland made famous there isn't a dry eye in house. Opening night jitters aside, I think Danielle will settle comfortably into the role and hopefully become a role model for little girls across the country.
In addition to the talented cast, at its core The Wizard of Oz is a show that will appeal to families. While musical theatre lovers should celebrate it for giving our Canadian talent an outlet to shine and showcase their skills, I think families will love it for providing an evening out that parents and children can enjoy together. The opening gala had many children in attendance, and watching their faces light up throughout the show was perhaps the best part of the entire event.
While some people may criticize the show for not bringing anything truly 'new' to the classic story, I think it is perhaps one of the best ways to introduce a new generation to The Wizard of Oz. The classic songs sound brilliant in the hands of our seasoned performers, and nothing can beat hearing them performed with a live orchestra. For the children in the audience, the magic of The Wizard of Oz came to life on that stage in a way that I doubt adults can fully understand. Perhaps sometimes a classic tale is exactly what's needed to invigorate a city's love of the theatre, and to remind people that there really is no place like home.