The Wizard of Oz at the Straz: Bring the Kids

The Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, Toto and Dorothy bring the familiar, beloved story to life at the Straz Center in Tampa.

The Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, Toto and Dorothy bring the familiar, beloved story of the Wizard of Oz to life at the Straz Center in Tampa. Sunday’s evening performance at the Straz marks the end of the 23-city national tour.

I hummed the songs all the way home Tuesday night after the Tampa premier of the Wizard of Oz at the Straz Center.

Who doesn’t love “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” and “If I Only Had (a Brain) (a Heart) (the Nerve)”? Who doesn’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling when Dorothy breaks out into a soaring rendition of “Over the Rainbow”?

So, yes, our theater-loving party of four adults thoroughly enjoyed the last Opening Night of the national tour of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s stage version of the Wizard of Oz. My only regret was that our two sons weren’t with us – they know the movie well and would very much have gotten into the special effects and the antics of the adorable rescue dog, Nigel, who plays Toto.

In fact, this production is a wonderful way to introduce your kids to musical theater. The story itself is familiar and beloved, and the songs are (as mentioned) hummable. I’ve found that it’s incredibly helpful for children if we ground an unfamiliar experience in familiar, related territory.

In short: Your kids will love it, too. Here are a few reviews from past runs in Charlotte, Washington and San Diego. The critics liked this show.

But you might not want to wait too long to see it.

Tampa is the final scheduled stop on the 23-city tour, which began in December. Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. show at the Straz is the final chance to see this show with this cast, led by Sarah Lasko as Dorothy and Mark A. Harmon as the Wizard/Professor Marvel.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about shows at the remarkable Straz Center, I’m no theater expert. I can carry a tune, and I’ve seen Phantom and Les Mis multiple times, but that’s the limit of my expertise.

That said, I love a good story. And that’s what theater productions at the Straz Center give me – a chance to watch epic tales unfold on stage, tales interpreted by talented artists with world-class singing, dancing and acting abilities.

I also appreciate when classic stories like author L. Frank Baum’s children’s tale, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, are tweaked to reflect modern sensibilities. So, I LOVED it when one of my all-time pet peeves from the famous 1939 Judy Garland film got the West End treatment.

I won’t spoil it, because it was one of several meta moments sprinkled throughout the show, and this one gave me an actual belly laugh. I’ll simply say that it always bothered me that Dorothy Gale’s Oz farewell speech seemed to randomly favor the Scarecrow when she tells him, “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”

I was always like, “Wait, what? But … what about the Tin Man and the Lion? I mean … why? That’s not right, man.”

This show takes care of that in a most satisfying way.

One more thing. We saw Wicked on Broadway in May 2014. That show, which turned the traditional Wizard of Oz story on its head, was never far from my mind as I watched this more-traditional version Tuesday.

Honestly, as delightfully mean and nasty as Shani Hadjian’s Wicked Witch of the West was in this one, I couldn’t help but think of her as Elphaba, the “good guy” green witch from Wicked. There was something about the sardonic exchanges between this Wicked Witch and Rachel Womble’s Glinda that hinted at the kind of love-hate back story that drove the plot of Wicked.

This story holds up on its merits, though, and several added musical numbers provide a new and interesting twist to the familiar sound track. The dog was real cute, too.

The Wizard of Oz runs July 12-17 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, with matinee and evening performances on Saturday and Sunday. For tickets and information, visit the Straz Center website. Members of the Tampa Bay Bloggers were provided tickets to Tuesday’s performance for review purposes.