Oz energy

The Wizard of Oz (Harvest Rain)

Brisbane Entertainment Centre

July 12 – 13


It seems that there is no place like home for Harvest Rain with the company’s return to Brisbane with this year’s arena spectacular show, “The Wizard of Oz”, the most ambitious yet in terms of its scale with an amateur mass ensemble of over 500 performers joining a professional principal cast at the Brisbane Entertainment centre. The result is a bright production full of colour and moment for all ages to enjoy.


Before the wildly imaginative “The Wizard of Oz” morphs into the technicolour tale we all know from its iconic 1939 musical fantasy movie treatment, it starts with a sepia washed scene, detailed down to even Dorothy’s ‘blue’ gingham dress, as things open in Kansas where farm folk, Uncle Henry (Matty Johnson) and a particularly youthful Aunt Em (Aurelie Roque) attempt to convince young Dorothy (Carly Bettinson) of the need to hand over her dog Toto after he bites nasty neighbour Miss Gulch (Bil Heit)…. 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 (Chris Geoghegan), Hickory (Michael Nunn) and Zeke (Josh Whitten), the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion’s alter egos, and the wonderful Professor Marvel (John Wood). Before the tornado sends the farmhouse spinning, however, we are treated to the show’s signature ballad, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, in which Dorothy sings of the need to find a place where there isn’t any trouble, after failing to get the others to listen to her story.

Along with an exploding soundscape and Craig Wilkinson’s wall-to-wall video realisation and animations courtesy of a 9-metre high LED screen backdrops to the set, we are taking through experience of the twister. Then we are awashed with vivid colour, making it clear that we are not in Kansas anymore but rather over the rainbow in the Land of Oz, where Dorothy’s house has landed not just in Munchkinland but on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. While Dorothy is initially greeted by Good Witch of the East Glinda (Aurelie Roque) and troll-haired ensemble munchkins sneaking out from all sorts of nooks and crannies to gleefully sing in celebration of the Wicked Witch’s ‘Ding Don’ demise, her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West (Bil Heit) is seeking revenge, not so much for Dorothy ‘turning her sister into a house’, as her ‘take’ of her sister’s ruby red slippers. And so, on Glinda’s direction, Dorothy sets out to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City where she can ask the Wizard of Oz (John Wood) to help her get back home. During her journey, she meets a Scarecrow (Chris Geoghegan) in need of a brain, Tinman (Michael Nunn) who desires to have a heart and a Cowardly Lion (Josh Whitten) in need of courage, who accompany her to Emerald City so they can also ask the Wizard for help.


With effervescent songs such as ‘Follow the Yellow Bring Road’, ‘We’re Off to See the Wizard’ and ‘Merry Old Land of Oz’, there are plenty of opportunities for big choreographic numbers often filling the three basketball court sized space. Indeed, the big ensemble numbers serve as justification of the show’s spectacular descriptor, however, more so than previous arena spectaculars staged at the Brisbane Convention Centre, this also means that other numbers play in a comparatively empty space, which only distances the audience from any emotional engagement.


Under Dennett Hudson’s musical direction, the music sounds sharp, especially when showcased in initial Overture and Entracte as we resume the story in the Emerald City where things aren’t actually so wonderful, given the Rafferty’s rules behind the smoke and mirrors of the Wizard’s situation. While Act Two takes the audience to some darker places with liquidation of the Wicked Witch, it also features the standout ‘The Jitterbug’ musical number, cut from the MGM movie. The spirited number makes for a wonderful experience thanks to the older ensemble dancers’ on-point, in unison execution of Callum Mansfield’s lively choreography.

Like its backstory show “Wicked”, the “The Wizard of Oz” is sprinkled with malpropisms for humorous effect, though also, on opening night, some less deliberate dialogue lapses. And a smattering of intertextual additions allow additional opportunities for humour. The witches do a good job in their respective roles, even if these are a little jarring in their stray away from cannon. Glinda is more sassy than saccharine and the Wicked Witch is a cackling caricature, not particularly concerned with her sister’s demise. When serious technical issues see the opening night performance stopped, however, their ad-libs in eventual resumption of the show help everyone to move on.


Bettinson does a decent job as the show’s adolescent protagonist, however, it is her companions that steal the most audience attention, Whitten as the nerveless lion, Nunn as the heartless Tin Man and particularly Geoghegan as her first friend, the lively but mindless Scarecrow. In particular, Geoghegan stands out thanks to his physicality, convincingly flopping about the place as if really made of hay and his duet with Bettinson, ‘If I Only Had a Brain’ is a memorable, energetic explanation about what each wants from the Wizard. Ultimately, however, there is a clear camaraderie conveyed as the four venture together into the forest of lions and tigers and bears.

Harvest Rain’s “The Wizard of Oz” offers audiences a change to spend some time with a favourite story. It captures the nostalgic sweetness of the original tale but balances it with an integral energy and dynamic design aesthetic that gives each scene a distinct, detailed palette. And its ensemble encore of ‘Over the Rainbow’ serves as an ideal reminder of its excellent score, making it a charming way to end school holidays.

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

Judy would probably have loved it

The Wizard of Oz (La Boite Theatre, The Danger Ensemble)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

September 7 – 28

The Danger Ensemble’s “The Wizard of Oz” is an ambitious, confident show that is nothing short of a sensory overload.  From the outset, Maxine Mellor’s subversion of the story is made boldly clear. Indeed, this is an Oz that is far from over the rainbow, with its boozy Judy beckoning a tornado to take her to the Emerald City.

From here, the story sets about examining the darkness beyond the fantastical veneer. This is an interesting concept, but one that is diminished by gimmicky directorial choices (vomiting and a sex doll, for example), which offer little in support of an already saccharine soaked aesthetic.

Margi Brown Ash seizes the spotlight, both as boozy diva Judy and her transformation as Toto, thanks to her impeccable timing and compelling characterisation. In contrast, the energetic performances from the Mardi Gras munchkinesque Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, provide cartoon-like colour, however, quickly turn to tedium thanks to their hyper, shrieking portrayals.

“The Wizard of Oz” is a vividly avant-garde romp and, as such, is the type of production destined to divide opinion. Judy would probably have loved its camp techno-color nausea, however, ultimately this unrelenting, ostentatious emphasis is at the expense of substance.