Let the memory live again

Cats (Queensland Musical Theatre)

Twelfth Night Theatre

May 12 – 21

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” may be divisive, but it is also a bit of a musical gateway drug. There is reminder of this all around at Queensland Musical Theatre’s latest production of the juggernaut mega-musical, which is based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot, as its unrecognisable performers interact with audience members, alighting the faces of enlivened youngsters, clearly about to experience the spectacle for the first time.

Many older-than-that folk are returning again, such is the lure of Lloyd Webber’s score through the song and dance stories of a tribe of domestic cats on the night of the annual junkyard Jellicle Ball. And just as every cat is different (with unique coat-patterns and appearance thanks to Deian Ping’s costuming coordination from Renee Milton’s 2019’s design), so is its every production and thus its highlights from the anthology of numbers revealing each Jellicle cat’s story. On this occasion it is the mischievous knockabout clowns Mungojerrie (Amy Davison) and Rumpleteazer (Georgina Walsh) whose lively ‘Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser’ dance number is an Act One favourite, especially come its consecutive tandem cartwheels conclusion. Their strong Cockney-accented commentary of their petty cat burglar antics causing trouble around their human neighbourhood, makes their story as clear as their personalities. Walsh, in particular, conveys an infectious energy as she punches into every dance move with precision.

Acrobatic dance adds energy throughout, particularly in the company’s ‘The Song of the Jellicles and The Jellicle Ball’ after Old Deuteronomy (Paul Fegan) summons the cats from the nooks of crannies of the oversized props that populate the junkyard space of Gerard Linsey’s stage design, for the celebration to begin. Technically demanding choreography, often based on feline movements (choreographer Jo Badenhorst) is handled with ease as each cat shares their backstory. Cheerful lazy-by-day Gumbie Cat Jennyanydots (Emma Hodis) provokes an elaborate chorus line tap number in ‘The Old Gumbie Cat’ and, as the original, enigmatic conjuring cat, Josh Cohrane gives us an impish ‘Mr Mistoffelees’ number, full of impressive razzle dazzle dance moves like multiple a la seconde turns. And, Mike Lapot’s Rum Tum Tugger introduction is all Elvis style swagger to drive the kitties wild.

Ensemble numbers are always a visual spectacle. All performers show an impressive commitment to bringing their cat characters so consistently to life, such as in share of animated reactions to the nostalgic recollections of the frail, but esteemed Asparagus Gus, The Theatre Cat (Andrew McArthur). The entirely sung-through nature of the show makes the effect of differing microphone levels quite noticeable at times, however, when vocals unite in harmony, there are some lovely moments, such as in the chorus of the first full production number in which the concept of Jellicle Cats is introduced to the audience.

The orchestra, under conductor and musical director Michael Keen, cannot be faulted in its execution of such a multifaceted score, which is demanding in its eclecticism. As it should, it culminates in the show stopping ballad, ‘Memory’ which sees a broken and bedraggled Grizabella (Kathryn Bradbury) melancholically remembering her glamorous past and pleading for acceptance from the tribe. Her ‘Touch Me’ key change the stuff of goosebumps, amplified by a lighting design by Tom Dodd that takes us through its emotional phases to almost silhouette her as she joyously ascents up up up to the Heaviside layer in final plot resolution.

In Caley Monro’s safe directorial hands, this “Cats” serves are a crowd pleasing reminder of all the reasons why the musical is so loved by those who aren’t amongst the haters. The Queensland Musical Theatre production easily transports its audience into a feline fantasy world of memorable music and vibrancy, for first-times and those wanting to let the memory live again alike.

Photos c/o – Creative Street

JCS considerations

Jesus Christ Superstar (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

February 10 – 25

The Crete Street Theatre stage is affronted by two distinct and appropriately placed sides in Beenleigh Theatre Group’s “Jesus Christ Superstar”. To the left are fist-in-the-air fliers of the Nazareth party encouraging citizens to fight the power, while to the right there is Roman Party political propaganda promising that we can ‘Count on Caiaphas’, who sees Jesus as a threat to the nation. Between them, things open upon infamous apostle Judas Iscariot (a committed Isaac Brown), who sings of his concern at the rising prolife and increasingly crazed followers of Jesus, predicting that they may threaten the powerful empire to the point of punishment in an impassioned ‘Heaven on Their Minds’.

Judas is singing from his room in Hotel Gethsemane, in reposition of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s contemporised depiction of the final days of the life of Jesus Christ to a more recent reimagining. This fits alongside the production’s theme of enhancing the musical’s commentary on celebrity culture from before celebrity culture was even a thing, with, for example, modernising touches of the mass communication that Israel in 4BC lacked. While apostles with mobile phones obviously in-hand and a phone-lit musical number are maybe unnecessary, King Herod’s (Cassie Baan) Hardline TV show that appears on screen in lengthy pre-show and interval loops works well in drawing modern parallels through the King’s provocation of fellow Galileans to question the buzz around the upstart Jesus of Nazareth (Sophia Dimopoulos), including the authenticity of his birth certificate, and creates a nice arc to Act Two’s catchy ‘Herod’s Song’, which sees Baan leaning into the hammy mocking of its caricature as the flamboyant King pressures Jesus live on air to prove his divinity by performing his fabled miracles.

Despite the frequent, perhaps again unnecessary, set piece movement by ‘hotel staff’, the sung-through rock opera moves quickly, helped along by Donovan Wagner and Kaela Gray’s lighting design which, on its own, creates appearance of a hotel elevator in which Judas is propositioned towards his ultimate betrayal, and takes us from a seedy hotel scene into the darkness of Jesus’ torment. And while its titular number is maybe more lacklustre than full-on focal-point, there are some memorable moments within the musical, such as creation of the tableau of Jesus’ final supper with his disciples and the colour-themed nods within Natalie Jean and Hannah Collines’ costume design.

Kylie Davis-Davenport’s choreography works well when advancing the narrative such as when Jesus’ rag tag follows are being turned away from discovery of ‘What’s the Buzz?’ and when Mary Madeline (Abigail Ellerton) anoints Jesus towards spa relaxation with instruction that ‘Everything’s Alright’ so they should treasure the comforts they have. At other times, however, it serves as more of a distraction to the main focus, when representing in interpretive dance and movement themes from an already obvious plot element or stylising a pivotal musical moment such as Jesus’ 39 lashes without any grounding explanation for those perhaps unfamiliar with the detail of New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life from arrival in Jerusalem to his crucifixion.   

Restraint is rightly shown in stunning realisation of Jesus’ emotionally-charged musical soliloquy ‘Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)”. Dimopoulos gives this crucial moment for her character everything that it requires as Jesus wrestles with doubts about the success of her mission, demands to know why she should continue given what awaits and ultimately surrenders to God’s will. Andrew Lloyd Webber himself has called this the most difficult song to sing he has ever written and Dimopoulos absolutely does this assessment justice, making it a standout moment of equal parts defiant conviction, potent desperation and ultimate dignity. While her vocals are well-pitched and she brings out the conflict and fear of her character’s plight throughout the production, this is, without doubt, the highlight of the show, thanks to the depth and soar of her vocals, and the considered lighting that backdrops her performance.

In support, Brown effectively conveys the internal conflict driving Judas’s actions, showing control in his lower vocal registers, but not the belt that Act Two’s ‘Damned for All Time’ deal with his betrayal perhaps requires, in keeping with its riff-driven rock sounds. Ellerton, gives us a compelling Mary, instilling the character with both strength and vulnerability through touching subtlety. While her ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ is another of the production’s great moments, she also creates some solid harmonies with Georgia Cooper as Peter in their ‘Could We Start Again, Please?’ wish to return to a time of hope and peace. Justin Harreman makes for a strong Governor Pontius Pilate, who holds Jesus’ fate in his hands. Also excellent are Daniel McNamara as High Priest Caiaphas and Michael Mills as his chief advisor Annas. McNamara’s bass vocals are especially deep and rich in their Act One duet of conclusion that for the greater good ‘This Jesus Must Die’

Ever since it first appeared on the musical scene in 1971, “Jesus Christ Superstar” has been considered sacrilegious to select conservative Christian groups and there are sure to be some troubled by the idea of re-gendering Jesus as this production has done. Apart from jarring the pronouns of Mary’s lovely ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ lament of how her feelings for Jesus frighten her, that Jesus is female, is not the most significant part of how this story is told. What stands out most is her crucial role in an impending election and what takes shape from that in terms of commentary on a person becoming more important than their deeds.As Director Kaela Gray notes in the show’s program, “this production isn’t a commentary on religion or theology; rather, it’s using the millennia-old story (as told through now-vintage tunes) to carry an incredibly modern message.”

While, at times, devotion to his modernity becomes unnecessarily detailed in distraction, what remains clear is the distinction of Lloyd-Webber’s catchy 1970s-inspired high-energy rock score, especially when kept in original key throughout. From the bombast of its epic shredding electric-guitar-filled opening overture onwards, the dynamic score is brought to rocking life by onstage JCS orchestra, under baton of Musical Director Benjamin Richards (also on keys). The perfectly balanced David Chivers (keys 2), Joel Sanchez-Carn (guitar), Phil Kan (bass) and Abbie Chadirchi (drums / percussion) are hidden away underneath the staging’s raised platform and it is unfortunate that there is no opportunity to ever seen them or rightfully acclaim their talents.  

Jellicle joy

Cats (Queensland Musical Theatre)

Schonell Cinema and Live Theatre

October 25 – November 3


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” is a show that polarises musical theatre fans; people either love it or hate it, but are rarely ambivalent, which alone makes it an ambitious choice for any production company, aside from it being so heavily grounded in dance. On the heels of their accomplished “Annie”, Queensland Musical Theatre are, however, more than up for the task, given its expandable cast of different age groups.

Based on the poetry of T. S. Eliot, the anthology-style, fully sung-through musical takes place over the course of one night, telling the story in song and dance, of the annual junkyard gathering of Jellicle cats, during which one special cat is selected to ascent to the Heaviside layer. Most people probably know the musical, however, because of its operatta-ish ‘Memory’, one of the only songs that doesn’t come from a T.S. Eliot poem and one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most famous compositions, which represents the story’s climax as the character Grizabella, engages in a melancholic remembrance of her glamorous past as a plea for acceptance. And, appropriately, the numbers stands as one of this production’s standout moments as Alison McKenzie’s deeply rich and mellow take, moves the audience to goosebumps in its power and impressive key-change sounds during the number’s Act Two reprise.


The show’s music is a significant part of its success. From the overture, the band, under Conductor Julie Whiting, is excellent in its execution of the eclectic score, even if, on opening night, things were a little loud at times, making it difficult to understand performer lyrics in the softer moments. Still, ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’ is a magnificent introduction to the multi-faceted but melodic score, full of layered tones that take audiences from playful prance to poignant dignity and back again.


Any good “Cats” has to create a visual spectacle, and with over 40 performers on stage at times, this is certainly the case with this production, starting with its cats’ purr-fect pre-show audience interactions as they sneak and strut throughout the stalls, making the memory of my first experience of the show on London’s West End live again. Schonell Theatre’s large stage allows for Jo Badenhorst’s dynamic choreography, which is strong and engaging but general enough to allow for all levels of participation. Still, numbers ebb and flow as each individual cat tells the audience their backstory.

This “Cats” is characterised by an impressive attention to detail. Costumes capture the individual characters of the cats, beyond just their different fur patterns, especially in the case of the befallen Grisabella, however, no costume (except maybe a cane prop addition) can make the wise patriah Old Deuteronomy appear appropriately elderly when he is moving so nimbly across the stage.

The complex set, which serves as the backdrop for the entire musical, is complex, with built-in entrances and exits, and also platforms and levels on which the performers can stand and move around. The oversized junkyard staging also contains many Easter-egg details like graffiti from the mystery cat Macavity (Christopher Morphett-Wheatley), a monster of depravity of which there is no like, and a book pile that includes ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and The Bible (the musical is full of religious symbolism beyond just the Moses-like leader of the cats, Old Deuteronomy’s share of name with the fifth book of The Bible). London mentions are effectively peppered through things, but the Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer’s number is oddly over-accented, meaning that the athletic and playful young cats’ antics as knockabout clowns and quick-change comedians are overshadowed by lost diction

As anyone familiar with the contentious show knows, its structure is quite unique, as an anthology rather than through-lined plot, with each cat getting opportunity to introduce themselves and share the story of their life, loosely tied together by narrator and second-in-command of the Jellicle tribe, Munkustrap (David McLaughlin). As the storytelling tomcat, McLaughlin is able to direct audience attention at will, thanks to his commanding voice and physicality, even when just in unmoving stance.

It is the leather-clad Darcy Rhodes as rebellious alpha loner ladies man and lime-light lover Rum Tum Tugger, however that gives the most engaging and memorable of performances, and not just in his song, ‘The Rum Tum Tugger’ and his ‘Magical Mr. Mistoffelees’ number, which both radiate with infectious energy (and vocal talent). Even when he is not center stage, he absorbs audience attention in his unfaltering commitment to his flirtatious, swaggersome character, down to the littlest nuances of gesture, movement and stylised changes of position. And how wonderful it is to see him returned to rockstar status after the 2014’s revival’s reimagining of him as a ‘street cat’ rapper. Also noteworthy is the delightful, measured performance of Eric James as Asparagus, (Gus) the elder Theatrical Cat with shaking paws, reflecting with reverence upon his life on the stage.

It is so unfortunate that, on opening night at least, the cast was let down by the show’s lighting and especially sound, which, dropping in and out as it did, effectively ruined Act Two’s ‘Growltiger’s Last Stand’ music hall drama tribute as part of Gus’ reminiscence about his favourite role in the old-fashioned melodrama, as well as sections of other songs. For audiences unfamiliar with the musical, the lyrics lost due to microphone lapses in early numbers would assumedly make the story more difficult to access.


There are still some standout numbers, however, such as Skimbleshanks The Railway Cat’s (Jonathan Taufatofua) tell of being unofficially in charge of the night train to Glasgow, during which a moving locomotive train is formed out of objects in the rubbish dump. The ensemble number is not only full of fun, but it represents the energy and spectacle that is at the core of this production, which is visually lavish and joyously dynamic in intent and realisation… mostly.

School is in!

School of Rock (GWB Entertainment)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

July 12 – 28


‘Rock got no reason, rock got no rhyme,’ the titular song of “School of Rock” tells us. The rock musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Julian Fellowes lives up to this observation from its opening number, ‘I’m Too Hot for You” by the band No Vacancy. It is quickly evident also that one of the band’s players in not like the others as guitarist Dewey Finn (Brett Hill) repeatedly attempts to upstage the lead singer, with his antics leading to him being kicked out of the band he formed. Those familiar with 2003 film on which the musical is based know the story from there.


Things go from bad to worse for the failed wannabe rock star when, urged on by resentful girlfriend Patty (Nadia Komazec), his friend Ned (John O’Hara) suggests he pay some rent or move on from his stay with them. Luckily for Dewey he lands a gig substitute teaching at the prestigious Horace Green, where expectations of excellence mean that the pressure is on, even if it is only under his pretense of being the actually-qualified Ned.


On appearances, the match is far from a good fit. In reality this is true, until Dewey discover the musical talent within his class and sets upon turning the group of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. But can he succeed in getting them to the Battle of the Bands without discovery by their parents and the school’s administration, especially as he starts to develop feelings for headmistress Rosalie Mullins (Amy Lehpamer).


Hill brings likeability and self-deprecating humour to the lead role in balance to the expected Jack Blackish mania of likeable loser Dewey masquerading as Ned, which strikes a chord with younger audience members especially. And his adult cast co-stars offer solid support, especially Lehpamer as strict Headmistress Ms Mullins, whose Act Two lament of lost chances, ‘Where Did the Rock Go?’, is magnificent. However, the show is really all about the insanely talented children’s cast touring with the production. A lot of the show’s comedy comes from the kids’ interactions with Dewey as their unorthodox, not-actually-qualified teacher, and the young performers more that rise to the occasion, in delightful highlight of their characters’ personalities as Dewey helps them all grow in confidence.


Of particular note, Stephanie Kipnis as Summer, makes for a convincing, feisty feminist ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ overachiever, allocated the role of the band’s manager. Remy Grunden gives the best face as bassist Katie and Kempton Maloney gives his everything to the role of epic drummer Freddy; he consistently draws the audience eye not just due to him taking the brunt of the responsibility for the musical time and rhythm but due to his infectious personality-filled performance in making the drum set shine.


Given the calibre of the talented young performers, ‘You’re in the Band’ serves as an early standout as Dewey discovers the class members’ genuine talents and puts together the instrumentals of the band, with then also backup singers, roadies, security and styling. A pre-show announcement from Andrew Lloyd Webber himself assures us that the multi-talented young performers really are playing the instruments live, which after seeing their level of skill in even this one early number, still seems difficult to believe.


The powerful rock anthem ‘Stick it to the Man’ (because if you wanna rock, you’ve gotta get mad at the Man) serves as another of the score’s most memorable and catchy of numbers, both initially in Act One and in reprise, making it clear to all that school is well and truly in. And the band’s battle competition entry, ‘School of Rock’, written by lead guitarist Zack (ferocious guitar wonder Zane Blumeris) is an another fun, rock-inspired exuberance with ‘dope’ shy but sensational singer Tonika (Chihana Perera) on vocals. Beside these noteworthy numbers, however, there are a lot of ‘filler’ songs in the story’s conversion from screen to stage. Yet while the narrative is still pretty flimsy, its presentation is slick; things are kept moving by some of the swiftest and most seamless scene transitions you will ever see on stage.

While it is not particularly memorable in the modern musicals mix, “School of Rock” is alive with energetic colour and moment, and therefore, full of fun for young and old audience members alike. Although its plot might be thin, some lessons are learned along the way as everyone discovers their true selves, resulting in some satisfying core messages. As Andrew Lloyd Webber himself notes, it is “a story about the empowering force of music…. of how music bring joy to people’s lives and how it can change people for the better”. Accordingly, the celebration is a must-see for all the family, especially coming on the heels of the non-family-friendly “Book of Mormon” season.

Evita artistry

Evita (Opera Australia, John Frost and David Ian)

Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre

December 5, 2018 – February 23, 2019

Opera Australia’s production of “Evita” starts slowly, but understandably so given that it begins with us witnessing the 1954 state funeral of enigmatic Argentinian icon Eva Peron (nicknamed Evita). It’s an appropriate opening for a show that at-once tells a personal and political story, emphasised by the incorporation of real-life video content (design by Duncan McLean) as testament to the extent of Evita worship that is still so much a part of the emotion and iconography of experience of Argentina (where the musical has been banned).


From this opening, the recreation of the original West End and Broadway production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” then takes the audience back through Eva’s (Tina Arena) story from poverty, leaving her family as a teenager with tango singer Agustin Magaldi (Michael Falzon, with a wonderful stage presence) and through life as a fledgling actress to her self-determined assent to status as a still-revered figurehead and symbol of hope for Argentina’s working class as the second wife of President Juan Peron (Paulo Szot).


Under Guy Simpson’s musical direction, the orchestra is masterful, meaning that the score stands the test of time, with addition of ‘You Must Love Me’, written for the 1996 film version. As highlight, the percussive ‘Peron’s Latest Flame’ provides a pop of colour and militaristic movement before the bombast ‘New Argentina’ rallies into intermission with a big and bold company number. The score also affords memorable tender moments too, like the duet between Eva and narrator Che (Kurt Kansley), ‘High Flying Adored’, in which the price of her fame is analysed.


While her Eva is one of ambition more than vulnerability, making it difficult to elicit empathy from the audience, Tina Arena brings a big touch of star quality to the production. Her performance is passionate, both dramatically and vocally. She makes ‘Buenos Aires’ and ‘Rainbow High’ her own and is of beautiful voice in Act Two’s show-stopping ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ in recognition of the song’s stately orchestration, stirring refrain and also melodic vulnerability. Indeed, it makes for a breathtaking moment as she strikes iconic pose on the balcony of Casa Rosada, backdropped by of-the-time footage of a sea-like crowd.


Although this is Eva’s story, it is the charismatic narrator Che (in this production visually based on famed revolutionary and guerrilla leader Che Guevara, more than as an anonymous everyman) who also spends significant time on stage. Kansley is also vocally excellent, as both Eva’s conscience and the voice of the people, ensuring that the audience is given the ‘authentic’ story of the nation’s ‘spiritual chief’. And Brazilian opera singer Paulo Szot is a commanding vocal presence as the presidential Peron.


“Evita” is a show full of detail, meaning that some knowledge of the story is advisable for audience members. This also allows for appreciation of its accompanying historical images, such as newsreal footage from the Peron’s 1947 goodwill ‘rainbow’ tour of Europe, fresh off Juan’s presidential election win. Clever mid-scene costume changes also add interest, such as when a crowd of Argentine elite in judgment of Eva’s chorus girl ambition is morphed into members of the working class masses adoring of her as advocate of labour rights and charitable championing. Makeup and lighting also work well, particularly in enhancement of Arena’s poignant performance, which aids immensely in helping us regard her as a dying woman being ravaged by cervical cancer at just 33.


As with its introduction, “Evita” ends soberly, with mourners gathered around Eva’s deathbed. While this does detract from its experience, given the unusual feel of not leaving a musical buoyanted by its final number or encore, it does not diminish the all-around artistry of this homage to the life of the first lady of Argentina.

Wonderful wizardry

The Wizard of Oz (John Frost and Suzanne Jones by arrangement with The Production Company)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

November 4 – December 3

dorothy.jpgAs 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.

under rainbow.jpg

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