Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 | 6 p.m.
Woof! Woof! A remarkably trained Scottish terrier named Nigel who plays Toto in Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new “The Wizard of Oz,” which rode atop broomsticks into our Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday night, received as much applause in the standing ovation as the cast.
Incredibly, even I was touched by the adorable antics of the tiny dog that missed only one stage cue. Give him an extra bone.
“The Wizard of Oz,” the 113-year-old story by Frank L. Baum, might no longer hold the relevance it did decades ago, but the hard-working and enthusiastic cast sure proved that theater is alive and well and why the stage show is still a solid experience even after Michael Jackson and Diana Ross attempted the widely derided “The Wiz.”
Our thanks to contributing photographer Tom Donoghue for his impressive photo gallery of opening night of the eight-performance run downtown in Symphony Park that launches the new North American tour.
Danielle Wade proves a worthy Dorothy, Cedric Smith is fine as the Wizard, but Jacquelyn Piro Donovan and Robin Evan Willis are perfect as the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch, respectively. However, it was Lee MacDougall, who found the courage of a lion; Mike Jackson, who discovered his Tin Man’s heart; and Jamie McKnight as the brainy Scarecrow who won the audience’s love and admiration.
Some of the modern-day, throwaway ad-libs, which won many laughs, were absolutely not in the original 1900 manuscript! All your favorite “Oz” songs are there with a live orchestra, and Danielle delivered the hits with her “Canada’s Got Talent” effectiveness.
The special-effects masters re-created a fairly authentic killer Kansas twister on video to take Dorothy out of dustbowl despair to the enjoyment of Emerald City, and you’ll be impressed with the other stage and flying special effects; kudos, too, for the incredible colors and costumes.
“The Wizard of Oz” is not as spectacular as Cirque du Soleil, but there is refreshingly no acrobatics. It’s not as hip or as current as a twerking Miley Cyrus or a Macklemore rap, but for the audience and me, that was a real pleasure. The energy, the effects and the costumes all made for an enjoyable experience of understanding the real meaning of “there’s no place like home.”
Even with touring shows, understudies never substitute for listed performers unless a specific announcement is made before curtain up. Believe it or not, Nigel as Toto — in the role since 2009 — even has an understudy, and Loki is just as adorable.
Trainer Bill Berloni, who has trained a long line of Totos dating back to the Broadway shows, rescued both. Nigel was rescued from the North East Arkansas Humane Society and Loki from a Missouri puppy mill by Cairn Rescue USA. Woof! Woof!
“The Wizard of Oz” is at Smith Center through Sunday.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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