The Wizard of Oz | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Wizard of Oz 

THE WIZARD OF OZ, at the Rosemont Theatre. Madison Square Garden's lavish cloning of MGM's beloved 1939 film lasts only 90 minutes yet duplicates the title and every setting except the overhead view of the witch's castle. The black-and-white scenes at the Gale farm are reproduced virtually frame by frame, including the menacing tornado and spinning house. The yellow brick road lights up the floor, and Emerald City is an art deco wonderland glowing in a hundred greens. All the songs are here, though in less rich orchestrations. Robert Johanson's adaptation even restores music cut from the celluloid version: the jazzy if dated "Jitterbug" number, a chorus for the Poppies, the lead-in to "Over the Rainbow," and a quartet by the Scarecrow and three smart-aleck birds.

Like the earnest cast, the few new jokes remain strictly in character. There are no intrusive anachronisms "updating" the action. The flying by Dorothy, the witches, the crows, and a winged monkey is fun and real.

But what can't be restored, even by Eartha Kitt as the Wicked Witch of the West and certainly not by Mickey Rooney as the Wizard, is the chemistry of the original burned-in-our-brain performances. Ken Page's high jinks as the Cowardly Lion would be irresistible if you'd never seen Bert Lahr's. Jessica Groves is a personable Dorothy but can't approach Judy Garland's vulnerable innocence. There's no place like home, and sadly this isn't it--but for many it will come close enough.

--Lawrence Bommer

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