It takes courage, heart and brains to take on Judy Garland and the Wicked Witch of the West.
But producer-director Michel M. Grilikhes ("Disney on Parade") has attempted to do so with a live road show of "The Wizard of Oz," which opened Wednesday night at Radio City Music Hall and will visit 70 cities after it leaves New York April 9.The $75 million production features flying monkeys and sparkling human snowflakes, a fire-throwing evil witch and a computerized Yellow Brick Road. But with all the stage gimmicks and pyrotechnics, it's a long, slow trip to Emerald City.
Grilikhes, who spent 12 years trying to adapt the 1939 film classic version of the L. Frank Baum stories, closely follows the film script and includes all the Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg songs from the original. But the staging is stiff, the pacing slow and the direction falters.
Still, it is a delightful event for families, and in those communities without repertory companies or little theaters, the production is a wonderful way to introduce children to live performances. However those under 3 might grow restless by the time Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion reach the Witch's castle.
As Dorothy, the diminutive 23-year-old Grace Grieg is appealing, but her singing voice is thin as she attempts "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and the supposedly tiny Munchkins tower above her. She was spotted by Grilikhes while appearing as Snow White in a Las Vegas production of "Beach Blanket Babylon."
Joe McDonough is no Ray Bolger but does a splendid job as the Scarecrow. Joe Giuffre's Tin Man is less inspirational but adequate. Guy Allen is lovable as the Lion. Polly Feale rivals Margaret Hamilton as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch. In many respects, she's even more sinister.
Toto - actually five trained terriers - appears and disappears with great frequency.
"The Wizard of Oz" includes a cast of 42 performers, huge sets and computer robotics.
Bill Campbell's costumes are a whimsical treat, especially the ornate Munchkin attire. The Yellow Brick Road, though, is a disappointment. It's difficult to see, and just sort of pops up every now and then. Dorothy and crew half-heartedly trot along.