Feb. 24 2011 12:00 AM

MSU musical has technological magic, but is sorely lacking in charm

Aye! Is it coldly cruel for a critic to even consider a cutting critique of a classic cultural icon like “The Wizard of Oz"?

While scenic designer G. Max Maxin has thrown tons of technological video graphic wizardry at the audience in the Michigan State University Theatre production — a spectacular unfolding of everything plus the kitchen sink that a scene designer can do to dress up a production — there is no magic, no fairy dust, no tenderness, no subtlety among the actors.

Everything is straightup, over-the-top: loud enough, but best likened to the manic mannerisms of the Muppets.

Guest director Jen Bender is probably most to blame for the flat and stereotypical acting in this wooden adaptation of the original movie.

As Dorothy, Brittane Rowe punches her way through her spoken lines like a pile driver trying to break through concrete, while Equity actor Dana Brazil, in the dual roles of the Wicked Witch of the West and Kansas busybody Miss Gultch, snarls and aarghs her way through the play at maximum torque,
very loud but not in the least bit menacing. Young children sitting
nearby were not cringing whatsoever at her herculean efforts to evoke
fright. At least Leslie Hull, as the Good Witch Glinda, shows subtlety
and has great costuming to boot. The three amigos, the Cowardly Lion,
Tin Man and Scarecrow, a creepy and whiny lot of losers to be sure, are
amusingly animated.

Each has his own sing-along moment, although vocally they sound exactly the same as they sing and prance their signature shticks. (If I only had a remote ... )

Midway through Act II when the highly touted, newly added and quite well performed “Jitterbug” dance number arrived, cerebral arteries were starting to clog. By then, nothing could save this dreadful production from being relegated to the dust bin of local theater history. A 10-piece pit orchestra, at times accompanied by eerie female background singers, adds some melodic interludes to the stage action, and the smoke and strobe effects of lighting designer Genesis Garza conjure up quite an effective faux tornado. Yet overall, there was nothing convincing about the transition from Kansas to Oz.

It has been said, on occasion, that familiarity breeds contempt. One could argue that doing the same musical score exactly the same way time after time might breed a comparable emotion.

The Wizard of Oz

State University. 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m.
Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. Feb. 18-27. Fairchild
Theatre, MSU $20 adults; $15 students and children. (800) WHARTON.