Oz anew

The Wizard of Oz (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

November 18 – December 3

Thanks to its perennially popular 1939 Judy Garland film, “The Wizard of Oz” is iconic. Beenleigh Theatre Group audiences are reminded of this if not during the familiar story of Act One of the musical, then during interval, which features play of a number of Garland songs. Stepping into the acclaimed actress’ ruby slippers is certainly no easy feat, but Madeline Harper does it with aplomb, and this is not the only strength of the company’s final production for 2022.  

Like so many girls her age, Dorothy Gale dreams of what lies over the rainbow. When a tornado rips through her Kansas home, Dorothy and her dog, Toto (very cute Yorkies Peggotty Pickel Hunt and McGinty Hunt), are whisked away in their house to the magical merry ol’ land of Oz, where, on instruction from the Good Witch of the North, they follow the troublesome Yellow Brick Road toward the Emerald City to meet the Wizard, along the way meeting a Scarecrow in need of a brain, a Tin Man missing a heart, and a Cowardly Lion who longs for courage, who are all somewhat familiar.

Before Frank Baum’s wildly imaginative fairytale morphs into a technicolour account, it starts in the bleakness of Kansas prairie farm life where Uncle Henry (Darcy Morris) and stern Auntie Em (Holly Siemsen) attempt to convince young Dorothy of the need to hand over her pet dog Toto after he bites nasty neighbour Miss Gulch (Alison Pattinson)…. until a tornado strikes in impede of Dorothy’s attempt to run away. It is an opening scene full of foreshadowing through introduction of three farm workers, Hunk (Hudson Bertram), Hickory (Michael Mills) and Zeke (Michael Ware), the later Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion’s, and the wonderful Professor Marvel (Bradley Chapman). To their credit, the company takes its time with this and allows emphasis of the parallels with character appearances to come in the future dream world in which trees come to life and there is always threat of lions and tigers and bears #ohmy.

A multilayered approach ensures that the audience is given a fresh take on a story that is still full of familiar moments and music. Attention to detail is evident in Alicia Caruana and Blake Russell’s costume design (especially in the patchwork, straw-stuffed clothing of the clumsy scarecrow), detailed even down to the sparkle of Dorothy’s iconic blue gingham dress. And fluro hyper-coloured costuming works well to capture the essential cheeriness of the muchkin people who welcome Dorothy to their land in celebration of the ding-don demise of their Wicked Witch of the East tormenter.

The fantasy that lies at heart of the story and its transitions in place can post a challenge for smaller companies, however, BTG are up for the task, creatively making use of the whole Crete Street Theatre space to create levels and allow for clever revelation of the yellow brick road to lead Dorothy and her friends to the imperial capital. From-audience appearances are peppered throughout and Holly Leeson’s choreography keeps things interesting as dancers perform as the tornado transition from Kansas to Oz, with aid from effective sound (Chris Art) and lighting design (Design Brett Roberts, Perry Sanders & Chris Art).

Despite being let down by occasional missed microphone cues, members of the core cast all do a stellar job in their respective roles. From the moment she first appears in a puff overdone cloud of smoke, Abby Page conveys all that is good about Glinda the Good Witch of the North. And Alison Pattinson is magnificent as both the intimidating self-important Miss Gultch and then the curiously smoking Wicked Witch of the West, cackling with threats and intention to avenge her sister’s death and retrieve her ruby red slippers from Dorothy. The star of the show, however, is clearly Harper as the story’s headstrong but also kind-hearted young protagonist. Her vocal pitch is amazing and she doesn’t miss a vocal beat. Her muse to little dog Toto of why only bluebirds fly over the rainbow is a strong, soaring reminder of why the work’s signature song is of the most enduring standards of the 20th century, and she shows brilliant dance skills too in Act Two’s lively ‘Jitterbug’ musical number, which was cut from the MGM movie. 

Bertram makes for a delightful first friend to Dorothy, flopping about all over the place as it really stuffed only of straw and accompanying this with appropriately amplified facial expressions, and Mills gives the Tin Man some tender moments. It is Ware’s nerveless Lion, however, that is the clear audience favourite. Hyperbolically pantomimic in his cheeky animated reactions and repeated failed attempts to be the king of the forest, he draws attention in his every scene appearance.

On-point harmonies result in some superb vocal moments, especially in resolution of dissent chords. The 20-piece orchestra, revealed at the rear of the stage once the story lands in Oz is sharp in its sound, especially when showcased in Entracte as we resume the story in the Emerald City where things aren’t actually so wonderful. Strings and woodwinds feature predominantly in the numbers that introduce each of Dorothy’s companions, ‘If I Only Had a Brain, ‘If I Only Had a Heart’ and ‘If I Only Had the Nerve’, but these also includes some lovely brass accents. And when everything combines to happy us towards interval with the quartet’s performance of ‘We’re Off to See the Wizard’, the result is simply joyous. Act Two provides more opportunities for the orchestra, under the baton of Musical Director Julie Whiting to showcase its versatility with the percussive march of witch’s Winkies and avant-garde ‘Merry Old Land of Oz’ opener, which is full of jazzy brass sounds (and even feature of a tap-dance number).

This is an energetic production brimming with talent in its every aspect. It is a charming retelling of a well-known story worth seeing because, because, because of its new takes as much as familiar reminders of why the classic story of Dorothy’s journey is so universally loved. And it is understandable, therefore, as to why its remaining tickets are selling so quickly.

Photos c/o – Creative Street