The Wizard of Oz (John Frost and Suzanne Jones by arrangement with The Production Company)
QPAC, Lyric Theatre
November 4 – December 3
As exciting as modern jukebox type musicals may be, there is something comforting about seeing traditional stories being retold on stage. In its Australian premiere, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new production of “The Wizard of Oz” combines the best of these two takes, giving audiences an exciting spectacle that enhances previous experience of the perennially popular film and/or American fairytale story by Frank Baum.
The same but better story tells of Dorothy Gale who lives on a farm in Kansas until a tornado arrives and picks her, her house, and her dog up and deposits them in the strange land of Oz. Dorothy who just wants to get back home, follows the instruction of the Good Witch of the North to head towards the Emerald City to meet the Wizard. En route she meets a Scarecrow in need of a brain, a Tin Man missing a heart and a Lion who longs for courage and discovers that no matter how yellow its bricks, the road is not always smooth travelling.
The London Palladium Production offers a new and fresh take on a story that is still full of the songs audiences know and love. Dorothy’s ‘Over the Rainbow’ ballad muse to little dog Toto that there must be a place where there isn’t any trouble is initially rushed but still absolutely beautiful in its magical fusion of music, lyric, situation and singer. The Munchkinland Sequence of ‘Come Out, Come Out’, ‘Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead’ and ‘We Welcome You to Munchkinland’ with Glinda, Dorothy and the Munchkins is simply joyous and you will find ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘We’re Off to See the Wizard” in your head for days (#inagoodway).
There are five new songs too, with additional music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and additional lyrics by Tim Rice, which like the originals, advance the story and allow the witches to have voice in song through ‘Already Home’ sung to Dorothy by Glinda with beautiful message about having everything she needs already at home and ‘Red Shoe Blues’ in which the Wicked Witch plots “she’s pretty and clueless and I want her shoeless” as she sends her flying monkeys to capture Dorothy and Toto and bring them to her castle. Of course, the musical extravaganza would be nowhere without the orchestration, which is superb.
Performances are appropriately pantomimic to a point, but full of heart. Remarkable and talented favourites Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix rejoin to weave their magic together on stage again, having previously portrayed Glinda and Elphaba respectively in the Australian production of “Wicked”. In an enlarged blue-rinsed good witch Glinda role, Durack is shrill in cutting comments, delivered with perfect comic timing. And Rix is nothing short of a deliciously evil green Wicked Witch of the West, cackling her threats and demands to have Dorothy’s magic ruby slippers.
Anthony Warlow, makes for a wonderful, Wizard of Oz, revealing humanity behind the pretenced narcissism of the venerated ruler behind the curtain, but is best as Professor Marvel who woos runaway Dorothy with a new patter song, ‘Wonders of the World’ (and in cameo as the Oz doorman). Last seen on stage in Brisbane in 2012’s “Annie”, he is an absolute hoot in the charismatic character role.
Samantha Dodemaide is similarly charming as the plucky Dorothy. And her beautiful voice is showcased in the iconic principal song, one of the most enduring standards of the 20th Century (#nopressure), soaring audiences along in melancholic memory of why only bluebirds fly over the rainbow.
Dorothy’s improbable yellow brick road travelling companions are delightful too in share of much of the show’s punny humour. As the gelatinous scarecrow, Eli Cooper is nuanced in his every action, reaction and inflection. The cheeky cowardly lion, John Xintavelonis is an audience favourite and Alex Rathgeber gives a memorable tap number as the Tin Man.
The same creative team from the Palladium original repeat their work and, accordingly, staging is quite spectacular, starting with a sepia-washed Kansas (like the movie’s initial scenes) in contrast to later under a rainbow reveal of vibrant technicolour. And, in Act Two when the narrative darkens, lighting creates a richly-red gothic aesthetic within the shadowy lair of the Wicked Witch and her winged monkeys. The most spectacular set, however, is that of an Art Deco Emerald City, reaching to the rafters.
Computer generated graphics transition scenes, including showing the twister that transports Dorothy from Kansas to the Land of Oz to begin her colourful journey home. And the visual styling of the inhabitants of the Emerald City is magnificently detailed, evident especially in Glinda’s sparkling gown.
Clearly, this “The Wizard of Oz” is much anticipated for a reason. It is an energetic, glittering wonder, full of humour and marvel alike to enthral all ages, in show of why the classic story is so universally loved. Those who cherish the film should expect faithful adaptation and more. Those unfamiliar with the source material (if there is anyone), will want to embrace the world’s favourite musical all the same.
Photos – c/o Jeff Busby