What Andrew Lloyd Webber did to “The Wizard of Oz” could almost be called wicked.
Watching the opening Tuesday night at Starlight Theatre of the North American touring company production of “The Wizard of Oz” felt like sitting through a movie full of special effects.
Video projections, all the rage in theater, steal the magic. Although technically impressive, the twister looks too realistic. The whirling dervish that returns Dorothy to Kansas looks like the opening sequence of the British TV show “Doctor Who.”
But the illusion of dark clouds and other effects designed by Jon Driscoll and re-created by Daniel Brodie does succeed in setting the stage rather than overpowering it.
The book has been revamped by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams, who also directs. Watch for the new ending. Lloyd Webber added a half-dozen songs penned with lyricist Tim Rice, and though they fill in some back story, they sound like Andrew Lloyd Webber and not Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, whose original songs remain. The show runs 2 1/2 hours with an intermission.
The monochrome feel at the beginning of the production, changing to eye-popping color for the Land of Oz, is a nice nod to the iconic 1939 film.
Robert Jones’ costumes and sets, including a neon rainbow, are so vibrantly colorful they’re almost garish. His gnarled witch’s tower portrays evil and the Wicked Witch of the West sports a hairdo that looks like Marie Antoinette gone goth.
Maybe it was Starlight’s size that contributed to the problems with Hugh Vanstone’s lighting choices, but details were lost. Glitches with a strobe light opening night were distracting and nearly blinding for those near the front.
Arlene Phillips’ choreography is lively and energetic. The Scarecrow has fun with his floppy-jointed moves and the Tin Man impresses with his “rusty” tap dances. But when did the Munchkins take growth hormones? Some were taller than Dorothy.
The cast is competent. Danielle Wade, who won the role of Dorothy in a televised talent contest, has some pretty big ruby red slippers to fill. She brings teen angst to the role with a new song lamenting, “Nobody Understands Me.”
Jay Brazeau is entertaining as both Professor Marvel and The Wizard. But when he sings “Bring Me the Broomstick” as the Wizard he appears only by projection, a disembodied head on the wall of Oz.
Understudy Jason Huska steps into the roles of Hunk and the Scarecrow through Thursday while Jamie McKnight recovers from an injury. He does an admirable job as the floppy Scarecrow. Lee MacDougall as Zeke and the Lion gets his share of one-liners to keep the adults entertained (the jokes, some of which suggest the Lion might be gay, will go over the heads of most children) while Mike Jackson as Hickory and Tin Man joins the trio on the Yellow Brick Road.
The three share great chemistry onstage with Dorothy, and their comic timing produces some of the brightest spots of the show.
Jacquelyn Piro Donovan’s Miss Gulch almost frightened me out of my seat but her Wicked Witch of the West is more campy than scary. Robin Evan Willis as good witch Glinda has lost the saccharine sweetness of her predecessors, and seems to care less about Dorothy’s well-being than her shoes.
Chelsey Duplak and Larry Herbert as Auntie Em and Uncle Henry convey their Kansas farm couple well.
Many in the audience seemed to enjoy Tuesday night’s performance, with about half in the front sections giving it a standing ovation.
“The Wizard of Oz” runs through Sunday at Starlight Theatre. Call 816-363-7827 or go to www.kcstarlight.com.