Presented by John Frost & Suzanne Jones. Adelaide Festival Theatre. 5 Apr 2018
There is a wonderful sense of returning to one’s childhood when watching The Wizard of Oz.
A youthful innocence is rediscovered; long forgotten by the responsibility and busyness of life. At almost 120 years old The Wizard of Oz is easily one of the most universally recognised tales; it has “worked its way into the public consciousness completely”.
But there is something about the nature of a memory that always seems to outperform truth. It is as if our memories exist on pedestals, from where they can only fall when confronted with the harsh light of reality. This reworked production of The Wizard of Oz falls somewhere in between.
The show is visually stunning, yet it feels tentative; the cast is well drilled and sound wonderful, but appears to be holding back; the story has a knack for making one's soul smile, yet the plot holes are left unplugged and the old girl is showing her age. In its own right, this is a delightful little musical. Held up to modern offerings like Matilda it feels shallow and leaves us wanting. Yet one must remain faithful the 1900s tale, and so this dilemma.
The original L Frank Baum story has been adapted for multiple mediums hundreds of times over the years, but the most memorable and commercially successful has always been the 1939 film starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. For this latest incarnation, director Jeremy Sams identified the ‘gaps’ in the original Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg score and, with the permission of Warner Bros., engaged Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice to write some new lyrics and musical numbers that would help to flesh out the existing narrative. For the most part, these additions and adaptations are a wonderful success.
With the assistance of choreographer, Arlene Phillips, set and costume designer, Rob Jones, sound designer, Mick Potter, lighting designer, Hugh Vanstone and orchestrator David Cullen, Sams set about recreating the wonder of the film and the beauty of the story on a modern stage for both young and old. Technology has done it a huge favour.
Most impressive amongst the big budget effects are spectacular projections (Jon Driscoll) and lighting techniques which elevate the story through a stunning lightning storm, earth shattering twister, imposing Wizard sequence, and a flying-monkey kidnapping. Film truly meets stage when the clever sets are layered with these projections and live action interacts to add both physical and emotional depth.
Of the performers, Anthony Warlow brings the goods in his dual role of Professor Marvel and the Wizard; particularly in his performance of Bring Me a Broomstick where his gorgeous tonal qualities are abundant, but also though his stunning characterisations. Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix, as Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West respectively, both deliver measured performances with the content available to them; their potential feels a tad underutilised in this production however. Rix’s rendition of the new number Red Shoes Blues is definitely a highlight. Newcomer Samantha Dodemaide, who takes on the pivotal role of Dorothy, looks and acts the part wonderfully, but doesn’t reach the vocal heights of her fellow cast mates. Overall vocal sound levels were too low on opening night, particularly in the first half.
Eli Cooper as Scarecrow, Alex Rathgeber as Tin Man, and John Xintavelonis as Lion, are all incredibly funny and take every opportunity to ham it up. The exceptionally tight ensemble delivers sharp chorography that elevates the visual spectacle of the show.
The original production is faithfully intact, and the new songs such as Home Is a Place in Your Heart tidy up the ‘why’ that originally felt under-explored. This, combined with the technological modernisation of the production, and its new translation to the stage, have elevated The Wizard of Oz to a new level.
Whether or not that level sustains the production for the next generation of musical theatre audiences who have the likes of Book of Mormon, Wicked, or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time to compare it too, remains to be seen.
When: 1 to 29 Apr
Where: Festival Theatre